An unwanted visitor has arrived - Cape Cod Healthcare

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Published on March 27, 2017

An unwanted visitor has arrived

An unwanted visitor has arrived

An unwanted visitor has arrived on Cape Cod.

It is the norovirus, a highly contagious gastrointestinal virus (GI virus) that causes gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach or intestines or both) resulting in vomiting and diarrhea.

“It’s typically a winter illness and I had not been hearing about anyone having it until this month,” said Kathleen Kohut, MS, RN, CIC, director of infection prevent with Cape Cod Healthcare. “It always seems to work that way where all of a sudden, it rears its head and it’s in the community.”

Each year norovirus is responsible for causing 19 to 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The most common norovirus symptoms are: diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Other symptoms can include headache, fever and body aches.

“The onset is abrupt and you may get sick within 10 hours to two days after being exposed to the virus,” said Kohut.

How It Spreads

According to the CDC, the virus spreads in the following ways:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus
  • Touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and then putting your fingers in your mouth
  • Having contact with someone who has norovirus and caring for them or sharing food or eating utensils

Gathering places provide a great source for the virus to spread.

“The virus is very contagious and is easily spread in communal settings,” said Kohut. “People are not outside at a church picnic, they’re inside at a church potluck dinner. It’s those kinds of settings that set people up to transmit the infection to each other.”

And according to the CDC, 61 percent of the outbreaks with vomiting and diarrhea are spread by having direct contact with an infected person either by shaking their hand or touching a contaminated surface and then putting your fingers in your mouth.

Cape Cod Hospital and Falmouth Hospital have stringent infection prevention processes in place to prevent the spread of the virus within the facilities, Kohut said.

Protect Yourself

It begins with good handwashing using soap and water.

“It’s the combination of the friction and the soap that lifts the germs off your skin and sends them down the drain,” said Kohut. “You should wash your hands for at least 15 seconds, approximately the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.

“The alcohol in the hand sanitizers doesn’t work well against the norovirus but if you have nothing other than a sanitizer, it is better than nothing.”

Kohut also recommends that you turn your head when helping someone who is vomiting. “The virus can aerosolize, which you can then get in your eyes nose or mouth.  That’s a high risk of transmission.”

How To Clean

If you or a family member has norovirus, Kohut suggests these cleaning practices:

  • Bleach in any form, including the Clorox bleach wipes, kills the virus
  • Use gloves to clean your countertops or any exposed area that the virus may have made contact.
  • If bed sheets contain any bodily fluids such as diarrhea and or the remnants of vomiting, Kohut recommends rolling the sheets up to take them to the washer and keep them away from the clothes you are wearing. Once you feel better and even though you are contagious for a couple of more days, there is no reason to wash your sheets daily, if they haven’t been exposed to bodily fluids.

Stay Home

If there is any upside to this virus is that it usually lasts only a day or two. But Kohut warns that you are contagious for around two days after you’re done with vomiting and diarrhea. The example she uses to explain how long to remain away from others and out of work is “if you get sick on Monday then you can go back to work on Thursday.”