On the nose

“Anyone who has had norovirus will tell you that for the first half of the illness, they are worried they might die, and during the second half, they are worried that they won’t die,” says Randall Todd, division director of epidemiology for the Washoe County Health District. The hearty virus recently took aim at 19 schools in Washoe County, sending home approximately 2,500 children, teachers and staff. The schools were thoroughly cleaned over the holiday break, and school officials hope the virus has been eliminated.

Depending on humidity, temperature and even something as benign as vacuuming, the norovirus can live on surfaces for several days. All it takes is for someone to touch a doorknob, desktop, crayon or volleyball that has the virus living on it, then touch their face or eat food without washing their hands, and norovirus spreads once again. The virus causes vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. If carpets aren’t thoroughly cleaned after a vomit incident, the vacuum can actually throw the virus into the air, where anyone can inhale it.

According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), approximately 21 million people in the U.S. catch norovirus every year. There are no treatments, except rest. To prevent further spread, those infected should stay home until all symptoms have stopped for at least 72 hours.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizer does not kill the virus. Washing hands with warm water and soap will remove the virus, and a bleach and water solution will kill it. Because some people are sensitive to the smell of bleach, there are other products that also kill norovirus. To avoid infection, wash hands after every bathroom use, diaper change or before eating.