By now, we’ve all heard that the flu itself is really bad this year, but did you know that the norovirus (stomach flu) is also particularly vile this winter? A new strain (called the Sydney strain) is going around the world and it’s apparently a very hardy virus: even hand-washing won’t kill it.
Norovirus is the fancy scientific term for the “throwing up sickness,” as we used to call it when I was a kid. Everyone knows what it’s like to be struck down with a flu that causes vomiting, diarrhea and extreme fatigue: it flat-out sucks. And what sucks even more is that this year’s Superman-like strain is so hard to avoid. Allison Aiello of the University of Michigan said:
“It is pretty difficult to get rid of. It is pretty stable. It lives quite some time on surfaces. It is hard to kill.”
She explained that even a quick application of hand sanitizer won’t get rid of it, and that most people are washing their hands incorrectly when they use soap and water, which makes avoiding the virus even more difficult. (Here’s a hint: it takes about 30 seconds of vigorous scrubbing with soap and water over the entire hand, including the nail, to kill germs. If you need to time it, just follow the simple rule I used to tell children when I was a nanny: sing the ABCs in your head while you wash. When you’re done singing, your hands are probably clean. It may be a little juvenile, but it works.)
Even worse, Aiello also said that the norovirus is spread before people actually start feeling sick, and that it can be spread for up to TWO WHOLE WEEKS after they start getting better. And did you know that the virus can be spread up to ten feet away from a person, via their vomit? Gross.
Hand-washed dishes are also a way for the norovirus to spread, as water only gets hot enough to kill the virus if it’s inside of a dishwasher. Since norovirus is also spread fecally, it can also get into laundry and infect people that way. Aiello says:
“It could be the door handle. It could be the toilet tank cover. Some studies show it can be aerosolized. If you throw up and then flush the toilet, how much of the spray gets into the air?”
Ew, ew, ew! The CDC recommends cleaning both surfaces and laundry with bleach in order to at least attempt to kill the virus. And even though hand washing isn’t a foolproof tactic against the norovirus, it’s better than taking no precautions at all.