Thursday, February 19, 2015

18 particles is all it takes

I've worked as a critical care nurse and then as an Infection Preventionist, taking care of patients with a variety of illnesses and injuries...assisted a neurosurgeon as he drilled burr holes into a patient's skull, a cardiothoracic surgeon as he opened a patient's chest, stuck my hands in countless wounds, gathered leaches as they reduced a neck hematoma...but nothing makes me more squeamish or turns me into a germaphobe like the attack of the dreaded norovirus... especially when it enters my home. Yesterday, the dreaded virus did just that...

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that spreads quickly; especially in schools, cruise ships, healthcare facilities, and day care centers, where people are in close proximity. Just how contagious is the norovirus? According to the Journal of Medical Virology, as few as 18 norovirus particles  can cause illness. Translated, the number of particles that would fill the head of a pin would have the capability of infecting more than 1,000 people. 

How is the norovirus spread? 
  • By touching objects contaminated with the virus and then touching your fingers to your mouth 
  • Through consumption of food or liquids contaminated by the virus
  • Via contact with an infected person.
When norovirus attacks it causes inflammation of the stomach, intestines, or both causing nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. These symptoms may also be accompanied by body aches, headache, and fever. Frequent episodes of vomiting and diarrhea can quickly cause dehydration. 

So, what can you do to prevent the spread of norovirus?
  • Wash your hands with soap and water when visibly soiled by rubbing them together vigorously for at least 20 seconds. 
Image result for royalty free hand hygiene image

  • Wash your hands with soap and water before eating, before preparing or handling food, and after using the toilet or changing diapers.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand rub frequently to decontaminate your hands, by rubbing all surfaces of the hands until the agent dries. 

  • Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before consuming them.
  • Discard any foods that might be contaminated with the virus.
  • Avoid preparing foods if you become ill.
  • Don't provide care for others while you're ill.
  • Clean and disinfect contaminated objects and surfaces with a chlorine bleach or other disinfectant that is effective against the norovirus.
  • Immediately wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with the virus.
Keep in mind that even when you feel better, you can still spread the virus to others. In fact, you are most contagious when you are ill and during the first few days after you feel better. You can shed the virus in your stool for 2 weeks or longer after you've recovered; so, make sure you continue to practice good hand hygiene and take the other necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the infection.

Remember, hand hygiene is the single most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of any infection!

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