Jan 30, 2007

Taking precautions against Norovirus

by Joanne Tang, News Editor
Take notice — that white glove check resident students are required to do may just be what keeps you from getting sick. There is a pesky monster hiding on food trays and backpacks and in bathrooms, and it is called the norovirus.

One of the most recent outbreaks involves a local college. Radford University, only one hour away, shut down two of the university’s four dining locations as a precaution to the norovirus outbreak, which caused more than 100 students to fall ill.

Another recent norovirus outbreak happened aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship. On Jan. 25, CNN reported that 276 passengers and 28 crew members from the luxury liner had become sick from the norovirus.

The third most recent outbreak occurred in a Herndon, Va., hotel. A Hilton right outside Washington, D.C. was closed after more than 100 guests and 15 of the hotel’s employees contracted the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, norovirus is actually the genus name for a whole group of Norwalk-like viruses. These viruses cause stomach flu symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, low-grade fevers, chills, headaches, muscle aches and tiredness.

Norovirus is spread through ingestion, most commonly through food, though its highly contagious nature also means that the objects infected people touch also become infected.

Anyone who touches an infected substance, whether it be a phone, a bed or food, immediately becomes infected. Though the person has to touch their mouth to actually become contagious, the rate of infection is very high.

Symptoms generally start within 24 to 48 hours of exposure, though the CDC also reports that they can start as early as  12 hours after exposure. Once a person begins feeling sick, they are immediately contagious to others.

Treatment is extremely limited, as antibiotics will only treat bacteria-based infections, not viral ones. The course of action is to simply wait it out, rest and drink plenty of fluids, as the vomiting and diarrhea cause dehydration.

The CDC recommends water and juice, but not sports drinks because they do not replace the nutrients lost during dehydration.

Children and the elderly may have much stronger symptoms than healthy adults.

Despite the recent news covering the outbreak of norovirus in colleges and cruise ships, the rates of outbreak in those two locations are relatively rare compared to restaurants, which have a rate of 37 percent.

Nursing homes follow at 23 percent and schools and cruise ships comprise the last two areas, with rates of 13 percent and 10 percents.

Precautions to take include washing hands thoroughly, especially after using the bathroom and eating or making meals.

Students in particular should be careful about touching kitchen counter tops and other surfaces, especially eating utensils.

Those who know other students who have had the norovirus, they should clean all the surrounding areas immediately. Clothes or towels should be washed in hot water and soap in order to clean all infection.

Utensils and other items that have been touched should be placed in a dishwasher and washed with hot water.

Contact  Joanne Tang at jtang@liberty.edu.

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