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Sea Sick: The truth about norovirus

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Sea Sick: by Keith Murray

What is the norovirus? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes it as a very contagious virus that can infect anyone. It can be passed through an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes the stomach, intestines or both to become inflamed, leading to stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Symptoms can be serious for some, especially young children and older adults.”

A few facts about the norovirus

  • Norovirus is not a “cruise ship” virus, nor does it limit itself to sea-going vessels. We typically read about norovirus on cruise ships because they are required to report all outbreaks to the CDC, and others are not.
  • Norovirus spreads quickly in crowded environments. Think dormitories, nursing homes, schools, child care centers, hotels, yachts and cruise ships.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 20 million cases of norovirus occur annually.

Signs and symptoms include nausea or vomiting; abdominal pain or cramps; diarrhea; a general feeling of discomfort, illness or uneasiness; low-grade fever; and muscle pain.

Signs and symptoms usually begin 12 to 48 hours after first exposure to the virus, and last one to three days. Some people, however, may show no signs or symptoms, yet sstill can be contagious.

People can continue to shed the norovirus in their feces for up to two weeks after recovery. Viral shedding of the norovirus may last several weeks to several months for an individual in poor health.

There is no vaccine for norovirus. To help prevent infection, proper hand washing is essential, especially after using the toilet, changing a diaper, cleaning the bathroom or servicing the ship’s wastewater system.

Avoid contaminated food and water, including food that may have been prepared by someone who was sick. Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before eating, and cook seafood thoroughly.

Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling human waste, and dispose of vomit and fecal matter carefully. Soak up such material with disposable towels, using minimal agitation, and place in plastic disposal bags.

Use a 10 percent chlorine bleach and water solution to disinfect virus-contaminated areas while wearing PPE.

Stay home from work or quarantine yourself to your cabin if sick. And remember, you can still be contagious after your symptoms end. Avoid traveling until signs and symptoms have ended.

Immediately remove and wash clothing, table cloths, bed sheets and towels that may be contaminated.

Always seek medical attention immediately when there are doubts about a patient’s health, including when diarrhea lasts longer than three days or when severe vomiting, bloody stools, abdominal pain or dehydration occurs.

Trained as an emergency medical technician, Keith Murray now owns The CPR School, which provides onboard CPR, AED and first-aid training as well as AED sales and service (TheCPRSchool.com). Comments are welcome below.

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