Over the past several weeks, the highly contagious norovirus—otherwise known as a nasty stomach flu that rears its head during the winter months and affects 21 million Americans every year—has once again begun to spread through the United States. To make matters worse, an altogether new strain has been introduced from Australia this season. This strain is a stronger, more aggressive form referred to as the Sydney strain. While there has yet to be a significant outbreak in Hampton Roads, over 140 outbreaks of this strain have been observed in the US so far.
Symptoms of the norovirus generally include severe vomiting and diarrhea, often lasting up to 48 hours. Other than simply letting it run its course, there is no known cure, and no vaccine to prevent it either. It is one of the most difficult viruses to be rid of, and recent studies show that even hand sanitizer may not do the trick. The only way to avoid it is to immediately clean and disinfect any contaminated surfaces, preferably with bleach, and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly for at least thirty seconds.
According to the CDC, more than half of the cases in the US were the result of person-to-person transmission. On top of this, the virus can be transmitted by someone before they even start to feel sick, and up to two weeks after they recover. Should a family member or roommate comes down with the norovirus, it is important to sanitize and make absolutely certain it doesn’t get passed along. The classroom is one place where the virus can be transmitted very easily, so it is probably better a student misses a day than risk infecting his classmates. It takes just a few particles of virus to infect a person, and from there its onset is quite sudden.
The norvirus season begins in November and continues through March, but its peak is usually around the month of January. Each year, it results in 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths in the US.