How Long Does Norovirus Live On Surfaces? Preventing Its Spread

Norovirus is a single stranded RNA virus which belongs to the claiciviridae family. All the viruses in this genus are variants of a single species of virus called Norwalk virus. Norovirus is responsible for viral gastroenteritis, which is commonly manifested in the form of diarrhea and dehydration. While the condition may affect individuals of all ages, it is especially common in the pediatric age group.

The virus spreads through fecal contamination of water or food, skin contact with infected person or aerosolization following contamination of the surface. In the UK, the virus is referred to as the winter bug since its incidence increases in winter, when people are indoors, closer to each other.

Epidemiological data suggests that its prevalence ranges from 2% (in developed countries) to as high as 15% (in developing countries). Estimates suggest that the virus infects over 250 million people each year and is responsible for over 200,000 deaths annually. Mortality due to the virus is largely observed in developing nations among very young, very old or immune-compromised.

How Does Norovirus Spread & How Long Does It Live On Surfaces?

A person gets infected with norovirus, when the virus from the infected person enters the gastrointestinal system of another person.

The spread can take place as a result of direct physical contact, coming in contact with infected/contaminated surfaces like tables, toilets or via oral route in the form of ingested food or water.

It may also be transmitted by air in the form of particulate nuclei or aerosols, following vomiting. Reports suggest that outbreaks of infection are frequently seen in closed communities like schools, hospitals, hotels or on board a cruise ship.

The common symptoms associated with norovirus infection include vomiting and diarrhea, with or without nausea. Elevated body temperature, body ache and headaches may also be present.

A person infected with norovirus is contagious from the time the symptoms manifest to about three days after recovery. This means that a person infected with this virus may remain contagious for almost a week. Reports suggest that once contaminated, norovirus can survive on the surface for about 48 hours, though it is readily disinfected by chlorine based disinfectants or by heating. The virus continues to be shed via stools, almost two weeks after recovery. However, the virus shed during this time may not be active and hence not infectious.

How To Prevent Spread Of Norovirus?

There are some useful ways in which the spread of the virus can be halted. These tips can be resourceful in protecting oneself from the viral infection,

  • Hand washing with soap, preferably a disinfectant soap before handling food or after getting in contact with an infected person. Wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet. Remember, the virus can infect you only via the intestinal system, so these measures can prevent the virus from entering the system.
  • Cleaning the contaminated area promptly is critical. It is recommended to use chlorine based disinfectant or hot water to clean contaminated area. Alcohol or detergent soaps may not be as effective.
  • Individuals with symptoms of the viral infection like vomiting and diarrhea should avoid visiting hospitals. Within hospitals, individuals with these symptoms are isolated to prevent spread to others.

No antibiotics are required since this condition is self limiting. Mortality in this condition is linked with dehydration and hence infected patients should keep themselves well hydrated.

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