Norovirus Is Shutting Down Schools -- Here's 1 Easy Way to Prevent Catching It

CDC / Charles D. Humphrey, PhD

Schools across the country are closing, and it's not for a fun-filled mid-winter break. Norovirus, also known as the dreaded and highly contagious "stomach bug," is spreading quickly. Before you hang your head in despair or bolt the door and refuse to let the kids back in, there's one thing that you can do to give yourself the best chance to avoid the gut-wrenching illness. 




The easiest and most important thing:

Currently, there isn't a vaccine to ward off the virus that's accompanied by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and possibly even fever and aches, but washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water -- especially after using the toilet or changing diapers -- can help keep it at bay. That's because norovirus is only transmitted through direct contact with -- wait for it -- the vomit and feces of an infected person.

We know.

As a rule, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in conjunction with, but never in place of, good old-fashioned hand-washing. And, it's important to keep in mind that research has shown that relying on hand sanitizer can actually increase your risk of norovirus! So wash, wash, WASH those hands, people.

If your kids are anything like mine, hand-washing is usually a two-second affair that is almost never as thorough as I'd like it to be. I'm not suggesting they scrub in like operating room surgeons (though I wouldn't mind if they did), but the Mayo Clinic guidelines suggest we need to be a bit more thorough when washing our hands:

First wet your hands with running water -- warm or cold will do. Then, use liquid, bar, or powder soap, and lather well. By that, the Mayo Clinic means rubbing your hands together vigorously for at least 20 seconds. (Get the kids to sing "Happy Birthday" or "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" -- whatever it takes.)

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Don't forget to go over the backs of your hands, your wrists, between your fingers, and under your nails (yes, germs live there, too. Gross!). Rinse thoroughly and then dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel. If you have the option, turn off the faucet using a towel or your elbow, as well.

What else do you need to know about norovirus?

1. How it spreads:

According the the CDC, people with norovirus illness are contagious from the moment they begin feeling sick and for the first few days after they recover. You can catch it by:

- Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus

- Touching surfaces or objects with norovirus on them and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth

- Having direct contact with a person who is infected with norovirus, for example, when caring for someone with norovirus or sharing foods or eating utensils with them

2. Washing hands isn't the only precaution you can take:

When it comes to preparing your meals, always wash your fruits and veggies thoroughly and keep sick kids out of the kitchen while you're preparing food, the CDC advises.

If you've been sick, don't prepare food for others. Wait until at least two days after your symptoms have stopped before caring for others, otherwise you might risk exposing them to the virus. Hear that? No cooking dinner for at least two days! (A silver lining to catching this bug?!)

Also: Do the laundry. Not that you don't do enough laundry, right? But the CDC says it's important to immediately remove and wash clothes or linens that may be contaminated with barf or poop. (Ugh.)

3. It strikes fast:

The virus spreads quickly, especially in closed places like daycare centers, nursing homes, schools, and cruise ships, the CDC notes.

According to the CDC, outbreaks of the virus are common during the winter. But that doesn't make the illness any less unpleasant if your child brings the beastly bug into your home.

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4. You should clean and disinfect contaminated areas ASAP:

This one might seem obvious, but when you and the kids don't feel well, sometimes the first thing on your mind is getting back to bed. Instead, take a few minutes to disinfect the area if you've just vomited or experienced diarrhea. 

Wondering what's the best disinfectant to ward off this virus? The Environmental Protection Agency has compiled a list of disinfectants that are effective against norovirus.

5. The risks of norovirus:

While most people recover from norovirus within a few days, dehydration is always a risk, especially in young children and seniors. Be sure those suffering from the bug drink plenty of fluids to replace those lost from vomiting and/or diarrhea.

As moms, we often try to push ourselves to keep going even when we're ill, but the best thing you can do if you get norovirus is to rest -- and hope no one else catches it.

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