Parents of school-age children received automated calls and emails this week, following recent reports of Norovirus in Santa Rosa County schools. Health officials would like to remind everyone that good hand washing is one of the best ways to avoid spreading Norovirus and other gastrointestinal illnesses. They point out that hand sanitizers do not work with this virus.
They say the illness is highly contagious and typically lasts one to two days. The virus can be especially serious in very young children and older adults and spreads quickly in closed places like daycare centers, nursing homes, schools, and cruise ships. It is spread when a person eats or drinks something contaminated with the virus, touches surfaces that are contaminated with the virus and then touches the mouth or face, or has direct contact with someone who is ill. Becoming dehydrated from diarrhea and vomiting is one concern with this illness and can lead to serious complications if not addressed.
Norovirus is just one of a group of viruses that cause illnesses commonly referred to as "stomach flu". Symptoms include:
Hand washing is vital in preventing the spread of the illness, especially before eating or preparing food, and after using the bathroom or changing diapers. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also recommends:
Washing fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly before preparation
Avoiding eating undercooked or raw shellfish, such as oysters
Cleaning surfaces that may be contaminated with Norovirus with a bleach solution of 5 - 25 tablespoons of household bleach to one gallon of water.
Norovirus is not a new disease, and there is no specific treatment. Antibiotics are not effective since the illness is a virus, not a bacterial infection. Those with symptoms should remain at home until symptom free for at least 24 hours without the aid of symptom reducing medications, except to see their health care provider, and drink plenty of liquids that do not contain caffeine or alcohol. In most cases people will recover without having to see a doctor. However, you may want to see your health care provider if symptoms are particularly severe, or last more than a couple of days.
"In light of the increase in gastrointestinal illnesses in Escambia, we want to encourage everyone to take precautions to try to avoid becoming infected. We are seeing some illness in our schools, but it's sporadic, so we're concerned but not alarmed," said Mary Beverly, epidemiologist with the Florida Department of Health in Santa Rosa County.