Outbreaks of norovirus on the rise

Norovirus is the second most common illness behind the cold. It is a virulent form of food poisoning, one that spreads easily and hits hard and fast.

In those infected, it elicits flu-like symptoms, causing diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach cramps. The virus has been known to lead to hospitalization in extreme cases due to dehydration caused by the vomiting and diarrhea.

The Norovirus is among us. Graphic by Laura Bramble.

On Feb. 10, norovirus was found present in an elementary school in Prince William County,Va. The virus is more common in elementary schools because younger children are less careful about their hygiene than adults. There has only been one confirmed case of the illness at this time, but many others have complained of the flu-like symptoms associated with the virus. The school has since been cleaned with bleach and should be ready to be reopened on Feb. 13.

On Feb. 10, there were also reports that students at Princeton University and Rider University were ill with norovirus. This brought the total number of cases from the past two months up to 160. Some of the infected were hospitalized.

While norovirus is extremely contagious and particularly prone to outbreak following the winter holidays, it is fairly simple to prevent. When dealing with norovirus, the best way to prevent it is good hand hygiene; this means washing hands after using the restroom and before eating. Those taking care of someone ill with norovirus should also make certain to wash their hands as frequently as possible; alcoholic hand wipes have been shown to be effective in preventing the spread of the virus.

There are a number of settings where norovirus spreads through with apparent ease, including cruise ships, nursing homes and colleges. The virus can spread so effortlessly because these places provide very limited options for dining space. If food becomes tainted in one of the dining halls, the virus spreads more easily throughout the population.

Unlike some viruses, the previously infected do not have resistance to the next outbreak of norovirus. This virus is like the common cold and flu in that it has many different strains, all of which are constantly mutating just slightly enough to get past the body’s defenses. This is what makes the virus so hard to treat. Once infected, those who are ill should drink plenty of fluid.

Norovirus is just one of the many infections college students have to consider when living in a communal environment. It is a virus that, while easy to spread, is also relatively easy to prevent if simple steps are taken to ensure basic hygiene is followed. Something as simple as washing your hands is all it takes to help prevent the spread of this virus.