Massachusetts Health Officials See Increase In Norovirus Outbreaks
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) has seen a significant number of gastrointestinal illness outbreaks across the state this winter, which are likely caused by norovirus infections. Noroviruses are a group of particularly strong viruses that cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in people who get infected.
Noroviruses are easily spread through food, by person-to-person contact, or though contact with contaminated surfaces such as countertops and door knobs. The virus is spread through an infected person’s stool or vomit -- contamination that can be spread further without careful attention to hand washing and environmental cleaning. Illnesses related to norovirus infection have an incubation period (time from exposure to illness) of about 12 to 48 hours and the signs and symptoms can last several days. For most people, norovirus is a very unpleasant short-term illness, but it can be more serious for infants and children, elderly individuals and people with compromised immune systems.
Because noroviruses are so easily spread person to person, long-term care facilities are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks. Since the beginning of the year, outbreaks consistent with norovirus have been reported in more than sixty Massachusetts long term care facilities and hospitals. DPH staff has worked with each of these facilities on infection control procedures, and has provided guidance on environmental sanitation as well.
Everyone can reduce their chances of coming in contact with noroviruses by following these simple tips:
* Frequently wash your hands, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers and before eating or preparing food.
* Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and steam oysters before eating them.
* Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner.
* Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with virus after an episode of illness (use hot water and soap).
* Flush or any vomit or stool down the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is kept clean.
* Persons who are infected with norovirus should not prepare food while they have symptoms and for 3 days after they recover from their illness.