Travis Co. sees rise in norovirus outbreaks



Posted on February 25, 2014 at 11:28 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 25 at 11:40 PM

AUSTIN -- The Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department says it has investigated 12 outbreaks of norovirus or norovirus-like illness at long-term care facilities since mid-January.

The department says the number of outbreaks is significantly greater than norovirus outbreaks in the past several years.

The virus is often called the “cruise ship virus,” and is one of the most common causes of gastroenteritis in the United States.

The department s says norovirus infections are common in the Austin area during the winter months.

Symptoms of norovirus infection include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping. Some people may experience chills, muscle aches and a general sense of tiredness. An infected person may go from feeling well to very sick in a few hours. In most people, the illness lasts about one or two days.

The virus is spread by direct contact with an ill person or by eating food or drinking water or beverages that have been contaminated. Surfaces that have been contaminated with stool or vomit from an ill person, also may serve as the source of infection for well persons. Contaminated surfaces should be cleaned immediately and disinfected with a freshly-prepared, diluted bleach solution or a bleach-based household cleaner.

People with norovirus infections are most contagious from the moment they begin feeling sick until at least three days after they recover. Some people may be contagious for even longer. It’s recommended that people who experience vomiting or diarrhea should not work, go to school or attend daycare while they are having symptoms. People who are ill with vomiting or diarrhea should not prepare food or drinks for others.

According to the department, the best way to protect yourself and others against norovirus is to wash your hands often with soap and warm water. Hand sanitizers alone are not as effective against norovirus as washing with soap and water. There are no specific medications to treat norovirus. Infected persons should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluid lost through vomiting and diarrhea.

Effective steps in stopping the spread of norovirus include:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and before preparing, serving or eating food or drink.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces contaminated with vomit or diarrhea immediately using a bleach-based household cleaner, or dilute household bleach 1:10 in water.
  • Stay at home when sick.
  • Do not prepare food for other people when sick and for at least three days after diarrhea or vomiting has ended.

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