Not only is it prime flu season, but people in most states are getting hit with a double-dose of sickness of influenza and norovirus – the winter vomiting virus, more commonly known as the stomach flu.
So far, 2017 looks like an average season for both viruses, which tend to peak between late January and early March, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Doctors more often focus on warning patients about influenza and their preventative vaccines, but it is important to also be educated about the norovirus.
Five things you should know about the Norovirus:
1. It mutates the same way influenza does.
Norovirus and influenza are both RNA viruses, meaning they replicate using RNA instead of DNA, which makes them both prone to high mutation, therefore making it more difficult for the human immune system to defend itself against them.
2. It’s hard to kill.
Norovirus is enclosed by a structure known as a capsid, per NBC Health. Alcohol cannot penetrate through it, which is why hand sanitizers that are alcohol-based do not kill the norovirus. Dr. Aron Hall, CDC’s norovirus expert stated, “It’s resistant to many common disinfectants.”
The CDC recommends using bleach to kill it and explained that is why many health departments often require bleach-based cleaners be used in restaurants. “It can persist on surfaces for several days even at room temperature,” Hall said. Although soap and water can wash it away, very hot water must be used to kill it.
3. You can spread it AFTER you get better.
Norovirus continues to be produced in your body after your symptoms end. It spreads through the fecal-oral route, so if someone who was infected does not wash their hands very carefully, it can be spread to others. Hall advised those who are recovering to stay at home at least one or two days after symptoms end to be cautious of infecting others.
4. One person can infect hundreds.
Considering the above fact, there are many who go back to their day-to-day lives while they are still infectious even though they feel better. When you combine a hard-to-kill virus with invisible spread and people who no longer feel sick, it makes it that much easier to spread among those around you.
Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis – stomach upset – in the United States, per NBC Health. It affects 21 million people every year in the U.S. and 70,000 of those find themselves sick enough to go to the hospital. Nearly 800 people in the U.S. die annually, mainly elderly patients who become overly dehydrated.
5. Vaccines are in the works!
While influenza is much more fatal than the norovirus, several teams of researchers are working on vaccines to help prevent it. The norovirus claims nearly 200,000 lives globally each year. Drug maker Takeda has a vaccine being tested in people now.