“GII.4 Sydney” is the technical name of a rapidly spreading strain of norovirus, first identified in Australia and currently causing outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness in North America and elsewhere around the globe. Some know it as the “stomach bug” or “winter vomiting disease.” Whatever you call it, this highly contagious virus can take you out of commission for several days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that annually norovirus causes 21 million cases of illness, 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths.
The following tips can help you avoid norovirus:
- Wash Your Hands Frequently: Because person-to-person contact is one of the main routes by which norovirus spreads, frequent hand-washing is a must, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers, and before cooking or eating. Washing virus particles from your hands and down the drain helps prevent you from inadvertently delivering them to your mouth and eyes, entry points for infection. It also helps halt the chain of transmission of the virus to those around you. Do you wash and dry your hands properly?
- Don’t Rely on Hand Sanitizer: Hand sanitizer may not be completely effective in reducing the millions of norovirus that can end up on contaminated hands.
- Disinfect Hard Surfaces: Norovirus can remain on surfaces for days. Cleaning frequently touched surfaces is a step in the right direction but should be followed up with disinfecting. After cleaning, wipe hard surfaces with a solution made by adding 1/3 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water; air dry the surface. If you are disinfecting a surface that may have food or mouth contact (e.g., toys or utensils), rinse well with plain water after air drying. You can download a free set of norovirus posters with disinfection directions (in English or Spanish) here.
- Wash Affected Laundry with Hot Water and Bleach: There are billions of norovirus particles in the stool and vomit of infected people. Laundry that has contacted these materials should be washed with very hot water and bleach (fabric permitting). Choose the longest wash cycle and, if possible, machine dry them.
- Place the Toilet Seat Cover Down before You Flush: Studies show norovirus can become airborne and travel up to three meters, infecting surrounding surfaces. Following a vomiting or diarrhea incident be sure to place the toilet seat cover down before flushing. Thoroughly clean and disinfect the bathroom.
Joan Rose, PhD, is the Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at Michigan State University and a member of the Water Quality and Health Council.