A recent norovirus outbreak at North Carolina State University has spread to the rest of the state. Emergency preparedness reports note that the virus spread from Raleigh to Charlotte, and has reached Beaufort County in South Carolina. Several dozen students at NC State University recently came down with norovirus. The outbreak occurred during finals weeks (an already stressful time) and led some students to obtain treatment in hospital emergency rooms. Efforts were made by the university to contain and prevent the virus from spreading, but the virus is highly contagious and can affect anyone.
What Is Norovirus?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes an average 20 million Americans come down with norovirus every year. It’s not seasonal, but roughly 80 percent of cases occur between November and April, when the weather keeps us indoors and in close quarters. (Outbreaks have also been known to occur on cruise lines headed for the sunniest beaches, only because it spreads so quickly from person to person on the ship.) The CDC says norovirus can be caught from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The CDC elaborates that the virus causes your stomach or intestines or both to get inflamed. This leads you to have stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. There is no specific medicine to treat people with norovirus illness. Norovirus infection cannot be treated with antibiotics because it is a viral (not a bacterial) infection.
How Can It Be Prevented?
If you’re around someone who has caught the bug, there are a few things to do to make sure it doesn’t spread. The CDC offers the following advice:
- Wash your hands carefully with soap and water after using the toilet or before preparing food
- Wash fruits and vegetables and cook seafood thoroughly
- Feeling under the weather? Do not prepare food or care for others who are sick. (Food preparers are advised to not work until at least 48 hours after symptoms stop.)
- Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces
- Wash laundry thoroughly
What If I Catch It?
Unfortunately, the only thing to do is wait it out. Over-the-counter medications for pain and nausea will help ease the suffering, but there isn’t a magic pill that can make this go away. The CDC says that dehydration is a problem from vomiting and diarrhea. Severe dehydration may require hospitalization for treatment with fluids given through your veins (intravenous or IV fluids). If you think you or someone you are caring for is severely dehydrated, call the doctor. The CDC offers these tips:
- Drink up. Drink plenty of liquids to replace fluid lost from throwing up and diarrhea. This will help prevent dehydration.
- No booze or coffee. Sports drinks and other drinks without caffeine or alcohol can help.
- Oral rehydration fluids that you can get over-the-counter are helpful for mild dehydration.
As with all illnesses, your doctor should be the first person you reach out to when symptoms hit. While tips and advice from reputable sources like the CDC and your friendly neighborhood blog are invaluable, you should always trust and follow the healthcare plan laid out by your physician.