You may have heard of Norovirus. It is often associated with the outbreaks on cruise ships that make headlines. But Norovirus can be found anywhere, and it can spread very quickly.

If someone in your household has symptoms that suggest an infection with Norovirus or the lesser known Sapovirus, it’s important to take precautions to keep everyone from getting sick. These viruses cause a gastrointestinal infection with stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.  Some people may also have a fever.  Symptoms usually last one to three days.

These viruses are highly infectious. It only takes a few viral particles to cause infection, and the virus can survive on surfaces for as long as seven weeks. 

Treating the symptoms

Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for norovirus. It is very important to drink fluids as tolerated because you can become dehydrated with this illness and in some patients, intravenous fluids may be necessary.

Preventing the spread

Fortunately, there are special precautions you can take to help reduce the spread of these viruses in your home when someone in your family is ill.

Protect yourself

  • Wear disposable gloves while cleaning. It’s also critical to not touch your face, and you may want to consider wearing a mask and goggles.
  • After cleaning, first remove your mask and goggles. Then very carefully remove your gloves without contaminating your hands. Follow these instructions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how to remove gloves safely.
  • After glove removal, wash your hands with soap and water using a paper towel to turn faucet handles on and off and another paper towel for drying your hands. Discard paper towels in a trash container that has been designated only for this use.

The Bathroom

If you have more than one bathroom, designate one bathroom just for the person who is sick. If you only have one bathroom, be sure to clean “high touch surfaces”– the toilet, sink, countertop, faucet, door handle -- after each use. Decontaminate all surfaces using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label. If no such cleaning product is available, mix a solution of a half cup to one cup of bleach in one gallon of water. Also, close the cover of the toilet before flushing as this reduces the particles that become airborne.

Cleaning technique

There are cleaning techniques that you can use to also help reduce the risk of spreading these viruses to other family members.

  • Be sure to cover any vomit or feces on any surface with paper towels to prevent the virus particles from getting into the air when cleaning. Then, discard the paper towels in the designated trash container.
  • Use a standard household cleaner to clean the area using paper towels, then discard paper towels as above.
  • After that, use a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label. If you don’t have such a cleaning product available, then use a solution of a half cup to one cup of bleach in one gallon of water. Place the solution on the area to be cleaned, and let it sit for five to ten minutes. Then wipe up with paper towels and discard them in the assigned container.
  • For cleaning soiled rugs: use a steam cleaner for five minutes.
  • For cleaning soiled clothes or bed linens, handle with gloves, use an automatic washing machine on sanitize setting, or use the hot water setting at the maximum available cycle length and add a half cup of bleach if possible. Then machine dry at the highest heat setting.

Keeping food safe                                                             

  • Use disposable plates, utensils, and cups for anyone who is ill with symptoms suggestive of Norovirus. Place them in your designated trash container after use.
  • Do not share food or drink with an infected person and be sure to keep that person out of the area where food is being prepared.
  • The person who has been ill should not prepare food for others until one to three days after the symptoms have ended.

Wash your hands

Handwashing is always important. It is one of the best things you can do to keep yourself healthy. The CDC has additional information on proper handwashing techniques and other helpful prevention methods.

We hope this helps to keep you and your family safe from Norovirus!

Leonard Mermel, DO

Leonard A. Mermel, DO

Dr. Leonard Mermel is an infectious diseases specialist and medical director of the department of epidemiology and infection control at Lifespan.