ALBANY — A virus that causes diarrhea, throwing up, nausea and stomach cramps is sickening people across Southwest Georgia, and Public Health officials are urging residents to take special precautions to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease.
“We are getting reports from schools, child care centers, restaurants and other facilities of clusters of norovirus-like illness, and we’ve had positive norovirus test results back from locations in more than one community,” said Southwest Health District Epidemiologist Jacqueline Jenkins. “At this point we can say the infection is pretty much everywhere in our District.”
Healthcare workers, food handlers and people who work with children or the elderly are among those who should take special care not to spread the infection, since it tends to hit nursing homes, schools, childcare centers and other places where people gather particularly hard, Jenkins said.
“There is no vaccine to prevent norovirus and no drug to treat people who get sick from it,” she said. “Antibiotics will not help because they fight against bacteria, not viruses.” The best way to reduce your chance of getting norovirus is by following some simple tips:
n Wash your hands (especially around and under the fingernails) carefully with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers. If soap and water aren’t available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
-- Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
-- People with norovirus-like illness should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for 3 days after they recover from their illness.
-- After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces by using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label. If no such cleaning product is available, you can use a solution made with 5 tablespoons to 1.5 cups of household bleach per 1 gallon of water.
-- Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. Handle soiled items carefully — disturbing them as little as possible — to avoid spreading the virus. If available, wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash your hands after handling. The items should be washed with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dried.
Jenkins said norovirus illness is usually not serious, but stressed that infected persons may continue to remain contagious for as long as two weeks after symptoms end. “That is why it is vitally important for facilities to be vigilant about hand-washing,” she said.
“Most people get better in one to two days,” Jenkins added. “But norovirus illness can be serious in young children, the elderly, and people with other health conditions; it can lead to severe dehydration, hospitalization and even death.”
Symptoms of norovirus infection usually include diarrhea, throwing up, nausea and stomach cramping. Less common symptoms may include low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and general sense of fatigue.
For more information about norovirus, go online to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org. or www.cdc.gov.