In the past week, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) has received reports of six outbreaks of diarrhea and vomiting probably caused by norovirus. While norovirus activity occurs year-round, it is traditionally higher in the colder months because people are indoors more and in closer contact. This is especially true around holidays when people are more likely to travel and get together with family and friends. Norovirus spreads very easily when people fail to stay home when ill with diarrhea or vomiting, and don’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom. It can also easily spread to large numbers of people when people prepare food while ill with vomiting and diarrhea.
During this holiday season with family gatherings, school events, and holiday parties, it’s especially important to take precautions if you or a member of your family is vomiting or has diarrhea.
"Anyone with diarrhea or vomiting should not be handling any food items, regardless of how well they wash their hands," said IDPH Medical Director, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk. "That rule is important no matter if you’re cooking for two or 200, whether it’s a regular family meal or at a restaurant." Anyone with symptoms of norovirus should stay home from school, daycare, work or other events to help stop the spread to others. It’s also important that anyone who has been sick with symptoms of norovirus not prepare food for others for two days after their symptoms have gone away, since this virus can spread even after you start feeling better.
Symptoms of norovirus illness include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and low-grade fever. Although sometimes called the ‘stomach flu,’ noroviruses are not the same as influenza and are not prevented by receiving the flu vaccine. The illness typically lasts for about two days and victims usually recover completely with no long-term health effects. If ill, the most important thing to do is stay home and keep drinking fluids. The most common health complication from norovirus is dehydration.
For more information on noroviruses, visit www.idph.state.ia.us/idph_universalhelp/main.aspx?system=IdphEpiManual&context=Norovirus_factsheet.