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December 20, 2023

Norovirus Infections Are on the Rise

Nicholas Rupp - Email
385-468-4130

(SALT LAKE COUNTY)—Salt Lake County Health Department (SLCoHD) announced today that the county is seeing an increase in norovirus infections. Because individual norovirus cases are not required to be reported, exact case numbers are unknown but SLCoHD epidemiologists are concerned about the number of norovirus-like symptoms they’re finding in the community.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that for the Western United States, norovirus test positivity is 10% for the week ending December 9; it was 3.5% for the week ending October 7 and 5% for the week ending November 4.

Symptoms of norovirus infection include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain or cramps.

“Norovirus can be miserable, with severe stomach pain and violent diarrhea and vomiting,” said Laine McCullough, SLCoHD epidemiology supervisor. “The only good thing about norovirus is that it’s brief for most people—typically only one to three days of illness.”

Norovirus is spread from person to person, by consuming contaminated food or water or by touching surfaces or objects that contain virus particles. People usually get sick 12–48 hours after being exposed.

“It’s spread primarily through coming into contact with the feces of vomit of sick people,” said McCullough, “which means virus particles end up on our hands and then we eventually touch our mouths, ingest those particles and get infected.”

Norovirus is highly contagious because it takes very few virus particles to transmit the infection, and infected people typically shed billions of particles. It often causes outbreaks in group settings—such as schools, childcare centers and care facilities—and at social events.

“It spreads quickly,” said McCullough, “and it can survive on surfaces and objects for weeks.”

There is no vaccine against norovirus, and you can be infected with it more than once. Health officials say the most important things you can do to prevent norovirus infection are thorough, frequent hand washing, staying isolated when ill, and using the right cleaning products.

Unlike many viruses, norovirus is not deactivated by alcohol, quaternary ammonia, or anionic compounds--meaning hand sanitizers and many common cleaning products will not help prevent infection.

“Norovirus can be an especially difficult illness to prevent because hand sanitizers don’t work against it,” continued McCullough, “and cleaning with the wrong product is like not cleaning at all.”

To prevent further spread of illness, after someone vomits or has diarrhea the CDC recommends immediately cleaning and disinfecting the entire area using a chlorine-bleach based solution or a commercial cleaning product EPA-registered against norovirus.

There is no specific treatment for norovirus infection, though hydration is important to replenish fluids lost from diarrhea and vomiting.

Anyone can get infected with norovirus, and it spreads year-round, though illness and outbreaks are most common in the winter months. Although it's often called the “stomach flu,” norovirus is not related to the flu, which is caused by influenza viruses.

If you know of an outbreak of norovirus or acute gastroenteritis in a group setting (residential care facility, school, childcare center, group event, homeless resource center, etc.), please report it at SaltLakeHealth.org.



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