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Mayo urges steps to prevent norovirus

After seeing an uptick in norovirus cases, Mayo Clinic Health System doctors are urging people to take precautions to prevent the spread of illnesses that cause vomiting and diarrhea.

The holidays presented a time to gather with family and friends, along with shopping excursions and workplace potlucks. These, in turn, can lead to an uninvited guest: norovirus, which causes people to become sick with cramping, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Norovirus is a highly contagious virus, which typically infects a person for one to three days.

“Because there is no medication or treatment for norovirus, prevention of the illness is your best bet,” said Dr. Jessica Schoen, who works in Emergency Medicine with Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin. “Prevention is up to each of us, which includes staying home when you’re sick so you don’t spread the virus to others. Prolonged vomiting and/or diarrhea can pose a risk of dehydration for infants, young children, the elderly, and those with chronic medical conditions so it’s important to drink plenty of fluids.”

Anyone can get infected with norovirus and become sick, and people can get norovirus illness many times in their life. Noroviruses are a group of related viruses that can cause gastroenteritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Each year, norovirus causes about 20 million illnesses, resulting in tens of thousands of hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths.

People with a norovirus can feel extremely ill and throw up or have diarrhea many times a day. This can lead to dehydration, especially in young children, older adults and people with other illnesses. Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in Minnesota.

Mayo Clinic Health System offers these tips to prevent illness:

•Stay home if you are sick. This means staying home from school and work. Food service workers are required by law to stay home if they are sick.

•Practice proper hand hygiene. Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the restroom and changing diapers and before preparing foods or eating. Wash your hands more often when someone in your household is sick.

•Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer to use prior to eating out in public but use soap and water for hand washing after encounters with a patient with norovirus symptoms.

•Be smart in the kitchen. Do not prepare food while you are sick with norovirus, are experiencing norovirus symptoms and for at least three days after you recover. Carefully rinse fruits and vegetables, and thoroughly cook oysters and other shellfish before serving.

•Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces. Use a household bleach solution (up to 1½ cups of bleach in one gallon of water) to clean surfaces after vomiting or diarrhea accidents.

•Avoid pot luck gatherings. As difficult as this may be, it’s good advice to stay away from homemade items just to reduce exposure to potentially contaminated food.

For more information about norovirus and how to prevent and treat the illness, visit mayoclinic.org.