The Fairfax County Health Department is seeing an increase in cases of gastrointestinal illness in the community and is reminding people to stay home when sick and for 24 hours after getting better, and to practice good handwashing to prevent further spread.
Gastrointestinal viruses, like norovirus, spread from person-to-person. The most common symptoms of norovirus include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and diarrhea. Additional symptoms may include fever, headache, and body aches.
Symptoms usually develop 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to the virus. There is no vaccine to prevent or medication to treat norovirus. Most people will get better within one to three days, but young children, older adults, and people with other medical conditions are more at risk for complications, such as dehydration. If vomiting and diarrhea continues for more than a few days, you should contact a physician.
“Holiday time, with family and friends getting together, is also a time when gastrointestinal illness viruses can easily be spread,” said Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, Director of Epidemiology and Population Health.
“Be aware and take steps to prevent illness. Good handwashing, staying away from others when sick and for 24 more hours, and using a cleaner with bleach on any surfaces that may have been contaminated with the virus by someone who is ill can help keep the holidays healthy and happy.”
In addition to investigating reports of illness, the Health Department works with facilities like schools, day cares centers and nursing homes where outbreaks occur to ensure staff have appropriate cleaning protocols and other measures in place to stop the spread of illnesses in their facilities.
Regular and appropriate handwashing is one of the most effective prevention methods for reducing the spread of norovirus and other illnesses. People who are ill, or caring for someone who is ill, should wash their hands carefully with soap and water before, during, and after preparing food. If soap is unavailable, hand sanitizer also can be effective. Hands should always be washed after using the toilet, changing diapers, or washing soiled clothes or bedding. Sick people should not prepare food or care for others.
Norovirus can be found in vomit or stool before someone feels sick and for two weeks or more after symptoms subside. Hard, non-porous surfaces that have been contaminated by an ill person should be cleaned, and then disinfected immediately with a chlorine bleach solution made by adding 5 to 25 tablespoons of household bleach to one gallon of water.
“Norovirus can spread in many ways, like touching objects or countertops that have norovirus droplets on them and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes,” Schwartz said. “It only takes a very small amount of norovirus particles to make you sick.”
Fairfax County Health Department
703-246-8635, TTY 711