The season to take precautions against norovirus

Feeling nauseous — and guilty — coming out of the holiday season? The rich foods and sweets might not be to blame.

A particularly nasty virus that tends to peak in winter again has surfaced in the state, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reports.

The MDHHS has identified increases in norovirus activity recently and is urging Michigan residents to take precautions to stay healthy.

Although several viruses can cause vomiting and diarrhea, norovirus is the most common. These viruses are easily spread through food, by person-to-person contact or through contaminated surfaces.

Which means if one person in the household is ill, everyone else has to practice good hygiene to avoid picking up the virus as well.

Norovirus infection frequently is described as “flu” or “stomach flu” but is not related to influenza, a respiratory viral illness that can cause fever, cough, chills, headache, muscle aches, runny nose and sore throat.

Norovirus often causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping — yup, all the fun stuff — but infected people also may have a low-grade fever, headache, weakness and muscle aches.

Symptoms can begin as early as 12 hours after exposure to the virus or as late as 72 hours, the MDHHS advises. The symptoms of norovirus usually last one to three days. In most cases, ill individuals fully recover without medical attention.

However, norovirus infection may result in hospitalization due to dehydration, especially in the very young and elderly. Because of this, not surprisingly, individuals with severe diarrhea should drink lots of liquids.

Symptoms not seen — emphasis on not — with norovirus infection are bloody diarrhea or high fever. If these symptoms develop, contact your medical provider.

The best way to limit the spread of these viruses, according to the MDHHS, is frequent hand washing for at least 20 seconds using soap and warm running water, being sure to completely clean all areas of hands and under fingernails. This is especially important after using the bathroom or before preparing or eating food.

Preventing contamination of food, drinks, water and ice is crucial as well. People who have been sick with vomiting and diarrhea should not prepare or serve food to others for at least three days after their symptoms are gone.

One-third cup of bleach diluted with one gallon of water is the most effective way to disinfect surfaces against norovirus. Bleach should be used in well-ventilated areas. Note that hand sanitizers are considered ineffective against the virus.

Norovirus can remain on a variety of surfaces for extended periods of time, so cleaning is essential. Doorknobs, faucets, sinks, toilets, bath rails, phones, counters, chairs, tables, hand rails, light switches, keyboards and other high-touch surfaces should be disinfected more frequently, but especially within a 25-foot radius after a vomiting incident.

Steam cleaning carpets and upholstery might be required, along with laundering contaminated clothes or linens on the hottest setting possible.

Additional information about norovirus can be found at CDC.gov/norovirus.

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