LANDSTUHL, Germany --- Multiple U.S. military installations within Germany are experiencing significant increases in norovirus cases, as a result of significant norovirus activity being reported throughout Europe.
According to public health officials, norovirus is the official name for a group of viruses that cause the stomach flu and is the most common cause of foodborne illness in the U.S.
Due to the virus being highly transmissible, U.S. healthcare and childcare facilities are particularly susceptible to these viruses. Only a small amount of infective material is needed to spread the disease. The virus also has a short incubation period between 12 to 48 hours and can live for up to two weeks on surfaces that have not been adequately cleaned.
“Symptoms of norovirus most commonly include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping. Infected persons with severe symptoms, however, may also experience fever, headache and body aches. Symptoms typically come on very quickly, but usually only last for one or two days.” said Lt. Col. William Washington, Regional Preventive Medicine Consultant at U.S. Army Public Health Command Europe.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the greatest health risk from norovirus is severe dehydration – especially in young children, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses. Symptoms of severe dehydration include decreased urination or very dark urine, rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, lack of energy and fainting.
Parents of children in diapers may notice a decrease in the number of wet diapers, although this may be hard to notice with frequent diarrhea.
“If you or a family member are experiencing norovirus symptoms, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration,” Washington said. “If dehydration occurs, seek care from your primary care provider or local Emergency Room immediately if symptom severity warrants.”
Because norovirus is more persistent than other viral causes of gastrointestinal infections, Washington recommends staying home from work or school for at least 48 hours following any episode of vomiting or diarrhea to prevent the spread of the infection.
There is no vaccine to prevent norovirus and because antibiotics fight bacterial infections, not viruses, they are ineffective in treating the illness, according to the CDC.
People can become infected after consuming foods or liquids contaminated with norovirus, having direct contact with an infected individual or touching surfaces containing the virus. Symptoms can appear as early as twelve hours after exposure to norovirus, according to the CDC.
5 Tips to prevent norovirus from spreading
- Practice proper hand hygiene — use soap and water because alcohol-based hand sanitizers alone do not kill norovirus
- Wash fruits and vegetables and cook seafood thoroughly
- Avoid eating uncooked shellfish
- When you are sick, do not prepare food or care for others
- Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces – preferably with a bleach-based cleaning solution
- Wash laundry thoroughly in hot water