If you live in Butte County and have been experiencing vomiting with diarrhea, Kiyomi Bird would like you to stay home until it passes. Kiyomi Bird is the Public Health Program Director for Butte County Communicable Diseases Department. She says lab results have confirmed the presence of norovirus, a very contagious pathogen that is prevalent in winter. Sometimes these symptoms are referred to as the "stomach flu" but there is no such thing, says Bird.
"Influenza presents with body aches, fever and some respiratory issues such as a cough or sore throat," she said. "A norovirus is just vomiting and diarrhea which leads to rapid dehydration." When enough people show up in local hospitals and walk-in clinics complaining of these symptoms, doctors or other health professionals will notify the Public Health Department. The department then tests samples. If positive, they notify the public, as they are doing now.
Norovirus lasts on average about 72 hours -- unless you are very young, elderly or have a chronic illness. In those folks, it can last quite a bit longer.
Norovirus is very contagious and it can live on surfaces anywhere from hours to days. There is nothing you can take to prevent it. Instead, you must be hyper-vigilant about your personal and home hygiene. That means that you don't just wash your hands but you scrub them for at least 15 seconds with soap and warm water. Bird suggests you sing the "Happy Birthday" song to yourself while washing. That takes about 15 seconds.
If someone in your household gets sick, she stresses that chlorine bleach is the disinfectant of choice against norovirus. It's important to wipe down every surface the sick person was in contact with. Finally, wash towels, bed linens and all clothing worn by the person who is ill. Norovirus can live on these fabrics and if anyone else in your house touches them, they can be infected. If you have a big family, you will want to do as much as you can to prevent more than one infected person in the home. The infected person should not prepare food for others until three days after symptoms have abated.
Bird would like you to know that norovirus is not limited to Butte County and it has been around since 1968. You can call your own Public Health Department to find out if norovirus is active in your area.