SAN ANTONIO – Up to 21 million Americans get sick from norovirus each year. Often associated with cruise ships and hospitals, it spreads easily in confined spaces. It has forced schools and colleges across the country to temporarily close.
Norovirus is often mistakenly called the stomach flu, but it is not related to influenza. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pains and occasionally fever.
You can get the illness any time of the year, but it’s most common in the winter. The norovirus spreads through fecal matter, contaminated food or coming into contact with someone who is sick with the virus. If you are close to someone who is vomiting, you might get sick through aerosolized particles. If that happens, you’ll probably see symptoms within 12-48 hours.
What should you do to avoid it? Consumer Reports' medical advisers recommend washing your hands with soap and hot water for at least 30 seconds, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers or handling food. Hand sanitizers alone do not work.
Also, if someone in your home has gotten sick with norovirus, disinfect contaminated surfaces with 5 to 25 tablespoons of household bleach per gallon of water. Wash linens, towels and clothes that might have been contaminated.
If you do get sick, Consumer Reports recommends staying home to avoid spreading it to others. Allow the virus to run its course, which usually takes one to three days. Drink lots of liquids, as severe dehydration can land you in the emergency room. There is currently no vaccine for norovirus.
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