For about 24 hours beginning last Wednesday evening I had what I thought at the time was a bout of food poisoning. It wasn’t, because my wife Cathy and then our houseguest Dave Täht got it. It was a form of extremely infectious gastroenteritis, almost certainly a new strain of norovirus that is running through the U.S. like wildfire right now. Here’s what you need to know to avoid getting it and giving it to others:
We think it was norovirus because the symptoms match its clinical profile perfectly. They are: vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain. Duration is about 24 hours. It is difficult to convey how hard and fast this hits – you go from feeling fine to violent nausea in 20 minutes. I experienced the progression myself and watched it in two others.
1. If you experience fast-onset gastroenteritis that mimics food poisoning, it is quite likely to actually be norovirus.
2. This bug is extremely infectious and can be spread by skin contact, aerosol droplets, or virus on food-preparation sufaces.
3. Careful hygiene in the bathroom and frequent hand-washing before and after contact with other people is important to help you keep from getting it and passing it on. Sources differ on how effective conventional hand sanitizer fluid is against this bug, but it can’t hurt to use it.
4. If you get it, isolate yourself. Avoid contact with other people. Do not go out in public if you can possibly avoid it. Do not handle food that will be eaten by others; do not touch food-preparation surfaces or cookware or utensils that will be used by others.
5. It is not lethally dangerous (except to the very old, the very young, and people with compromised immune systems) and it doesn’t last long (about 24 hours).
6. Those will, however, probably be 24 of the most most miserable and disgusting hours of your life. The symptoms include violent vomiting and (sometimes uncontrollable) diarrhea. You do not want to have this.
7. Do not try to hold down the initial vomiting any longer than it takes you to get to somewhere sanitary to barf into. You will feel better after you have emptied your stomach. You may, in fact, feel almost normal – until the diarrhea hits.
8. You will be losing water rapidly via the vomiting and diarrhea; you will be more miserable, and recover more slowly, if you let yourself get dehydrated. Take small drinks of water at relatively frequent intervals.
9. Washing contaminated clothes, towels and surfaces with a light chlorine solution will kill the virus.
10. Important: Continue isolation until you have been without symptoms for a minimum of 48 hours! I cannot emphasize this point enough – failing this because I didn’t know I was infectious is probably how Cathy and Dave got it.
If we had known it was infectious when I got it, Cathy and Dave might have been spared a lot of unpleasantness. Play safe and don’t infect those near you.