If you're about to dive into a tasty meal, you might want to bookmark this article for later. But when you're ready and you're not worried about losing your appetite, you're going to want to know how Norovirus is transmitted; the nasty, highly contagious, totally grotesque stomach bug is on a rampage here in the U.S. this season, so it's worth understanding what the risks are and how to protect yourself against it.
Maybe you've heard of it before; the virus becomes widespread during the winter months and targets your digestive system — and by "targets" I mean "wrecks havoc." Yes, Norovirus has been around for a while and typically rears its head this time of year, making people who live in big cities particularly nervous. According to the CDC, nearly 20 million people in America are infected with the virus each year, and it results in an estimated 800 deaths as well. You've probably heard about it in relation to food poisoning as it's the leading cause of infected food-related outbreaks, commonly transferred to humans via oysters, fruits, vegetables and other ready-to-eat foods that don't get cooked at the high temperatures needed to kill off the virus (140 degrees F). So if you've been lax on the hand washing, spend a lot of time in crowded places, use public restrooms and eat out in restaurants — even if they're fancy, you've already put yourself at risk of getting the virus.
You might think that a virus that's spread through fecal matter is hard to catch. But this isn't a matter of avoiding touching other people's feces, even though that's what it sounds like. The virus is invisible to the eye. and so contagious that an infected person who wipes and even washes their hands vigorously might still have traces of the virus on their skin, even if they didn't directly touch their feces. (Look, I told you not to read this while you were eating!)
According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, no one's actually safe from Norovirus. You can be infected with it multiple times and it's spread very easily. If you so much as touch a surface that someone who is infected has touched in the last week, you're at risk. If you're in a restroom with someone who's infected, you can even catch the virus as it becomes airborne when the toilet is flushed. What's more, the virus is tough. It can live on surfaces for up to a week, it can live in water for up to a month, and it won't back down in the face of alcohol products.
So, what do you do when your job requires you to be around a lot of people? You amp up your personal hygiene routine, tenfold. Wash your hands thoroughly after you use the bathroom, especially if it's a public bathroom. Before you eat or put your hands near your mouth — or even touch your make up! — wash your hands. Keep the surfaces in your home clean by hitting them with some bleach wipes, daily. And do not, under any circumstances, go visit a friend with a stomach "flu." Carriers of the virus can be contagious for up to two weeks after their symptoms subside. Send a text, send the hugging emoji, but stay away from people who are sick. And, if you're the one who's feeling sick, stay home from work or school, you don't want to risk infecting others.