Norovirus: Hand hygiene matters — a lot

It’s stomach flu season which means we are seeing our seasonal surge in norovirus cases across the country. The U.K. and the U.S. are actually season unusually high numbers this year (66% higher in the U.K.) and though that hasn’t been the case in Canada so far, it’s best to be vigilant.

Despite its common moniker, norovirus isn’t actually a flu virus. It’s the cause of more than 1 million food-related illnesses across Canada annually, and though people typically get over the bug in a couple of days, those days can be unpleasant – vomiting, diarrhea, etc.

When an outbreak begins, it can be very difficult to stop it. Norovirus spreads primarily across surfaces and by way of bodily fluids. Crucially, an infectious dose doesn’t actually have to contain that much of the virus. As Katherine Wu wrote in a recent piece for the Atlantic, “some have estimated that ingesting as few as 18 infectious units of virus can be enough to sicken someone… At an extreme, a single gram of feces–roughly the heft of a jelly bean–could contain as many as 5.5 billion infectious doses, enough to send the entire population of Eurasia sprinting for the toilet.”

Shared food, contaminated water, surfaces that have been in contact with vomit or fecal matter are common vectors of the disease. People can be infectious days before symptoms start and for nearly a week after they subside. Unlike other viruses, catching the virus also doesn’t confer any immunity that lasts longer than a few weeks, meaning people can get the same norovirus strain year after year.

The virus is also particularly resilient, and can live on surfaces for days.

So, what can you do about it?

Keep Your House Clean

Be diligent about washing blankets, sheets, clothes, and pillow cases. If your washing machine has a “sanitize” setting, use that. Use bleach if possible on bathroom surfaces and keep kitchen surfaces free of germs.

Keep Your Hands Clean

Unfortunately, norovirus is encased in a hard protein shell that makes it resistant to alcohol-based hand sanitizers. That means soap and water is king. But if for whatever reason you’re unable to wash you hands, sanitizer may be an effective mitigating factor until you’re able to get to a sink.

Also, during this season, it may make sense to embrace the fist bump over the hand shake. As with all illnesses, if you’re not feeling well, stay home.

At Ethisan, we’re answering questions about common illnesses and hand hygiene. Our sanitizers are made from seven ingredients or fewer and are plant-based, eco-friendly, and Canadian-made. Browse our products to learn more.