(BRIDGETON) – Assemblywoman Celeste M. Riley (D-Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem) on Wednesday called on students, parents and school officials to educate themselves on the highly infectious norovirus, its symptoms and best ways to prevent the spread of the virus to reduce the risk of outbreaks like the one that recently affected hundreds of college students in New Jersey.
“Noroviruses do more than disrupt your life for a few days; they can be deadly. According to the CDC, the norovirus is estimated to cause 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths each year in the United States,” said Riley. “Noroviruses are highly contagious and spread rapidly, as witnessed by the recent outbreak that affected more than 400 students in Princeton University, Rider University and The College of New Jersey. With no vaccine to prevent it or medication to ease the symptoms, we must educate ourselves on the symptoms and the necessary precautions to avoid further transmission.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), noroviruses are a group of related viruses. Infection with these viruses affects the stomach and intestines and causes an illness called gastroenteritis. Noroviruses are the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the United States.
Noroviruses spread easily, causing more than 20 million cases of acute gastroenteritis cases year. One in every 15 Americans will get norovirus illness each year. An average of 100 cases is reported each year in New Jersey, according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services.
“The norovirus can really cause havoc because of how easily it spreads. In one case, a hospital had to shut down and entire unit after patients and employees became ill from the virus. It’s imperative that we are able to recognize the symptoms so we can protect ourselves and our families,” said Riley.
Noroviruses spread from person to person, through contaminated food or water, and by touching contaminated surfaces. Symptoms usually include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach cramping. Other, less common symptoms may include low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a general sense of fatigue. Norovirus illness is usually not serious. Most people get better in one to two days. However, it can be serious in young children, the elderly and people with other health conditions. In more severe cases, it can lead to severe dehydration, hospitalization and even death.
There is no vaccine to prevent norovirus infection nor is there a drug to treat people who get sick from the virus. Antibiotics do not help because they fight against bacteria, not viruses.
The following are simple tips to help reduce the chances of getting norovirus or spreading it:
- Practice proper hand hygiene. Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers may be helpful addition, but should not substitute washing with soap and water.
- Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
- Do not prepare food while infected and for three days after recovering from the illness.
- Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces with a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label, or a solution made by adding 5-25 tablespoons of household bleach to one gallon of water.
- Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or fecal matter. Handle soiled items carefully to avoid spreading the virus. They should be washed with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dried.
“The silver lining is that reducing your risk of becoming infected is as simple as washing your hands often,” said Riley. “Practicing good hygiene is important not only for your personal appearance, but your health.”