What is the norovirus?

Norovirus, sometimes known as the stomach flu, is an extremely contagious virus that can cause inflammation of the intestines. It is the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis outbreaks worldwide, and the WHO estimates that approximately 15 million people in Europe are infected yearly.

Outbreaks of norovirus are particularly common in hospitals and healthcare settings. While the disease is not serious in itself, it can have serious consequences for those affected, especially in vulnerable care settings. There is no cure for the norovirus, but it can be prevented and limited through infection prevention procedures and strict hygiene measures.

The norovirus occurs throughout the year, but peaks during the winter months, with symptoms such as nausea, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea.

How do you get norovirus?

Norovirus is very contagious and spreads quickly. The virus can survive outside of the host's body on smooth and porous surfaces for up to two weeks.

Transfer of the norovirus

The transmission of the virus often happens through the hands. After a visit to the toilet, for example, the virus can survive on the toilet seat, the flushing knob, the tap or the door handle. As a result, the virus ends up in the mouth via the hands or on toys, cutlery, tableware and food. In addition, norovirus can occur in raw crustaceans and shellfish and raw vegetables and fruit.

An infected person can infect other people without displaying symptoms. The norovirus is present in the stool and vomit of the person carrying the virus. Although the norovirus is basically non-aerogenic (non-airborne distribution), the virus can spread through the air through vomiting.

Symptoms of norovirus

  • Nausea
  • Vomit
  • Headache
  • Stomach ache
  • Diarrhea
  • Mild fever

The symptoms generally disappear after two to three days in adults and after about one week in children.

Does everyone get sick of the norovirus?

A person can be infected with the norovirus with no symptoms but still infect others. The time between becoming infected and getting sick (incubation period) is one to three days. If you have already had the virus, you can build up immunity for the disease for up to three months. After that, you have the same risk of infection as anyone else.

Consequences of norovirus outbreak

An outbreak of norovirus in a healthcare institution can be have severe and costly consequences. Sick patients in hospitals require more care, residents in nursing homes are at a higher risk of contracting norovirus, and employees and caregivers are also at risk of becoming ill.

In nursing homes, residents who are not ill are advised not to leave their department and not participate in daytime activities. Employees are also advised to stay in one group or department in order to confine the outbreak. This results in a need for extra manpower and adjustment of work schedules.

Extra attention must be paid to hygiene: the patient or resident’s room must be disinfected and cleaned daily, there is extra laundry, etc. In addition, visitors and other employees are obligated to wear protective clothing when caring for or visiting patients.

Find out more: How can you prevent norovirus?

It is difficult to prevent norovirus, but you can ensure that the virus does not spread further. Hygiene is the key word, and starts and ends with good hand hygiene. Here are a few more tips for preventing or confining a norovirus outbreak:

Practice proper hand hygiene

Especially after patient contact or use of the bathroom. Check out our guidelines for hand hygiene and find out why personal hygiene is essential in infection prevention.

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Wear the correct (certified) nitrile gloves

For all care procedures and change the gloves when they are visibly dirty and whenever leaving the patient or residents room.

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How cleaning and waste protocols plays a key role preventing infectious diseases.

Dispose of vomit and fecal matter carefully and appropriately to avoid spreading norovirus by air.

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Cleaning protocols

Disinfect contaminated areas while wearing gloves and masks

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Good kitchen hygiene

Avoid food handling when displaying symptoms and for at least 48 hours after the end of symptoms. For healthcare professionals and caregivers, extra care and attention to hand hygiene and disinfection should be paid for 14 days following symptoms.

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Toilet hygiene

Be extra careful with incontinence product changes for three weeks after the infection, as the feces can remain contagious for up to three weeks.

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