For many of us, the weather is changing and it’s time to protect ourselves from those seasonal illnesses. The two that always come to mind for me are the flu and norovirus. Do you wonder if Influenza (the flu) and norovirus are related? Are they spread in the same way?
The Flu and NoroVirus
The flu and norovirus are not related. They are actually quite different but have one major thing in common. Proper hand-washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of both. Refresh your memory about proper hand-washing technique to help prevent the spread of the flu and nororvirus.
What’s Norovirus anyway?
Norovirus is actually a group of viruses that all cause similar health issues. Gastroenteritis (inflamation of the stomach and intestines) is the main concern which causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Many people also think of the norovirus as “food poisoning” or the “stomach flu” but norovirus is not actually related to the flu.
Why worry about the norovirus now?
CDC estimates that each year Norovirus causes 19 to 21 million illnesses, 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations and 570 to 800 deaths. Anyone can get infected with norovirus and you can get it more than once. It is estimated that a person will get norovirus about 5 times during their lifetime. Many people usually get sick with norovirus in cooler months, especially from November to April.
How does Norovirus spread?
The flu and norovirus spread in different ways. Norovirus is found in the vomit and stool of those who have it. This can be easily transmitted through contact, the air, contaminated fields or water. The virus is very small and easily transmitted through contaminated food as well. To protect yourself from the norovirus the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following.
Practice proper hand hygiene Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. These alcohol-based products can help reduce the number of germs on your hands, but they are not a substitute for washing with soap and water.
Take care in the kitchen Carefully rinse fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating.
Do not prepare food while infected People with norovirus illness should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for at least 2 days after they recover from their illness.
Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces
After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label. If no such cleaning product is available, you can use a solution made with 5 tablespoons to 1.5 cups of household bleach per 1 gallon of water.
Wash laundry thoroughly
Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. Handle soiled items carefully—try not to shake them —to avoid spreading virus. If available, wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash your hands after handling. Wash soiled items with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dry.
How is the Flu different?
Usually, the flu is much worse than catching a cold or the norovirus. For most people, flu symptoms last longer and can be more severe.
Don’t get the Flu!
Get a flu shot! This is important if you don’t want to get sick. I’ve heard many people complain that the flu shot made them sick. The risks associated with getting a flu shot are quite low. Mild side effects are much less severe than actually getting the flu. If you work in health care, you may be required to get a flu shot to be able to work. This is to protect you and your patients. If you are working with small children, the elderly, or anyone with a compromised immune system, catching the flu could be life-threatening.
It takes more than just a flu shot. There are several other important steps you must take to prevent the spread of the flu.
Take care of yourself
I’m sure getting the flu and norovirus is not on your “to do” list for the holiday season. We all have a lot to do, but we can’t do any of it if we get sick. Caring for yourself is the only way you’ll be able to care for others. Regular exercise, proper nutrition and adequate rest are just a few of the ways you can keep your body strong to help fight off the flu and norovirus.