The Department of Health, Victoria, has recently issued advice to hospitals and childcare settings that a new strain of Norovirus has recently been detected in Victoria, and this may lead to an increase in the number of cases and outbreaks over the coming months.
So what is Norovirus?
Norovirus is a type of gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis affects the digestive system and causes diarrhoea and vomiting, and may also be associated with abdominal cramps, headache, chills, low-grade temperature, muscle aches and tiredness. The illness often begins quickly and may last between 24- 48 hours.
There are many different viruses that can cause gastroenteritis, but Norovirus is one of the most common and is often associated with outbreak situations, where many people get sick at the same time.
How can Norovirus spread, and why is it so contagious?
Noroviruses are usually spread from one person to another and are often associated with outbreaks where people are in close living spaces such as aged care facilities, child care centres and cruise ships.
The virus can be spread by eating food that is either contaminated during growing or processing, or when food is prepared by someone who is ill with Norovirus.
It can also be spread by the touching of contaminated surfaces and objects, then putting your hands in your mouth, or by having direct contact with someone who is infected.
Only very small amounts of the virus are required to cause illness.
What is the best way to avoid spreading the virus?
There are some really simple things you can do to avoid spreading the virus:
- Wash your hands! Use soap and water after using the bathroom and always after changing nappies, and before eating or preparing food for yourself and others.
- Do not prepare food while you have symptoms of Norovirus/ gastroenteritis, or for at least 2 days after vomiting or diarrhoea stops.
- If any clothing or bedding is soiled with contaminated diarrhoea/ vomiting, remove and wash immediately
- After an episode of diarrhoea or vomiting, clean the area with detergent and warm water and then disinfect the surface. Remember to clean “high touch” surfaces also, such as toilet flush buttons, door and tap handles. The best disinfectant to use is household bleach, as this kills the viruses that cause illness. Recommendations are that it be diluted 1000 parts per million. Please remember to follow manufacturer’s instructions for bleach and that it can damage soft furnishings.
How long should I stay away from work or school?
To help reduce the risk of transmission to others, if you or someone you care for is unwell with Norovirus, or any gastroenteritis like illness, they should stay away from work or school/ childcare until they are clear of the symptoms for 48 hours.
It is important to stay away for this length of time because your body can still shed/ excrete the virus even after your symptoms have stopped.
Can I visit a hospital if I have gastro, or if my children have gastro?
Because gastroenteritis viruses such as Norovirus are so easily spread, you should not visit someone in hospital when you have symptoms. Patients in hospital are often recovering from operations or they may have a weakened immune system.
We understand that you would like to visit your loved one, however, to protect them from illness, it is requested that you stay away until 48 hours after your symptoms have stopped.