Barf. Hurl. Puke. Vomit. Spew. Upchuck. Heave. Yak. Blow chunks. Toss your cookies. Lose your lunch. Entering a digestion interruption sequence. Ralph. Technicolor yawn.
I used to just think of the “stomach bug” or “stomach flu” or even “food poisoning” as straight-forward and temporary inconveniences. But lately I’ve been doing a lot of research about this because of this
. I’ve learned that viruses are so incredibly easy to transmit, and now I’m freaked out about germs all the time. Especially norovirus. It sounds really exotic and scary, doesn’t it? But according to the Center for Disease Control
, noroviruses are the most common cause of “stomach bugs” in the U.S. “Stomach bug” means vomiting and/or diarrhea, in case that wasn’t clear. Norovirus is so common, in fact, that 1 in every 15 Americans will get it each year.
That means “food poisoning” is likely a highly-contagious virus, not just an isolated incident with the person who ate the contaminated food!
Since an outbreak at the zoo, some irresponsible members of the news media have been hyping up that norovirus is transmitted via fecal matter. That freaks people out, of course. But while poop and vomit is how the virus leaves your body, that’s not the whole story. The virus can be transmitted just like the flu. I’m not saying it’s not gross, I’m just saying it’s a lot easier to transmit than you think, and it doesn’t mean that the person who gave it to you vomited in your food, or didn’t wash their hands after pooping.
An infected person (who may or may not even have symptoms!) sneezes, and doesn’t thoroughly wash their hands. They use a pen, or grab a handrail. You use the pen or grab that handrail, then touch your mouth before washing your hands. See how easy that was? According to the CDC, that’s how easily viruses can spread!
We’re always told to wash our hands, and of course we all do after using the bathroom or before handling food. But do you really wash your hands every time you sneeze or cough?
Anna had a bug that caused a lot of vomit and a little diarrhea this weekend. We’re all washing hands and surfaces, of course, but I learned something from the outbreak at the zoo in early December. Staff went around to nearly every room in the zoo and on grounds and sanitized it. The classrooms all got wiped down with a bleach solution. The kitchens were closed for several hours so everything could be deep-cleaned and sanitized. Offices were wiped down and disinfected. They even changed their food service worker policy: instead of excluding sick workers for 48 hours, now it’s 72 hours.
This has really affected the way I’m dealing with this situation at home, even though Anna’s symptoms don’t necessarily line up with flu or norovirus. Just in case, I’m disinfecting all the surfaces, doing laundry at high temps (we usually only use cold water), and instead of letting her go on a playdate the next day – because she thinks she feels better – I’m making her wait an extra 24 hours. It’s just not worth the risk of spreading a virus. Because according to the CDC, you are still contagious even after your symptoms go away.
Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces
After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces by using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label. If no such cleaning product is available, you can use a solution made with 5 tablespoons to 1.5 cups of household bleach per 1 gallon of water.
Wash laundry thoroughly
Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. Handle soiled items carefully—without agitating them—to avoid spreading virus. If available, wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash your hands after handling. The items should be washed with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dried.
Am I being paranoid? Maybe. But if the zoo can be sanitized and disinfected from norovirus, I should be able to handle my household.