Norovirus: Infectious Even After We're Well - And Hand Sanitizer Won't Save Us

Norovirus is considered among the most contagious of all viruses. It's is so contagious that there have been reports of schools shutting down due to student absences. Sometimes, Norovirus will trigger a fever, but the most common symptoms people dread are diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. It comes on quickly, and can leave its victims vomiting as frequently as every 20 minutes for several hours.

Unfortunately, even hand sanitizer is no match for Norovirus. Norovirus is the infection champion.

Norovirus is also known as the stomach flu.
Norovirus symptoms appear quickly and include frequent trips to the bathroom. [Image by Lisa F. Young/Shutterstock]

"Some viruses, like influenza, are coated in lipids, 'envelopes' that alcohol can rupture. But non-enveloped viruses, like norovirus, are generally not affected," the New York Times reported citing an article published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

While you can often find hand sanitizer in generous supply in schools, offices and hospitals, hand sanitizer is no substitute for regular hand washing, Wall Street Journal reports, adding that "[t]he amount of virus exposure that one needs to become infected is tiny, just 10 to 20 virus particles." Experts reportedly stress that sanitizers simply are not effective, no matter how much we want them to be. There is no better way to prevent the spread of this incredibly contagious pathogen than to wash our hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and water.

To avoid Norovirus, wash hands and wash them well!
Handwashing is the best defense against Norovirus. [Image by Daria Filimonova/Shutterstock]

Every year, there are around 20 million cases of Norovirus infections in the U.S., according to a Wall Street Journal report. The virus causes stomach or intestinal inflammation, or both. Norovirus is commonly called "the stomach flu." Hospitals, nursing homes, and schools are hit especially hard, because Norovirus is spread through direct contact or by touching contaminated surfaces.

Christine Moe, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, said that she and some of her colleagues believe that Norovirus, which consists of at least 25 genotypes, "is the most infectious group of pathogens that has ever been described." Moe says that there are probably hundreds of strains of Norovirus.

Antibodies to Norovirus are only temporary, experts believe. This is why most people will become infected approximately five times over the duration of their lifetime. That's only part of the reason that Norovirus is such an infectious contagious disease, though. Unlike many other viruses, you are likely to remain contagious for a few days after you are feeling better. Experts in Australia reported a theoretical window of contagiousness that could last up to three weeks! Meanwhile, Norovirus can survive on surfaces for as many as four weeks, and some experts think that it can hold strong in room-temperature water for a couple of months.

Norovirus has been around for awhile. Experts say that Zahorsky first described it in 1929, calling it the "winter vomiting disease," but it was identified using an electron microscope for the first time in 1972. There is no vaccine available for this incredibly common and diverse virus group, but Takeda Pharmaceutical Company recently began enrolling participants from the U.S. Navy in a Norovirus vaccine study. Meanwhile, scientists at Baylor College of Medicine are working on both antivirals to treat the infection and new cleaning products with which to to better disinfect surfaces.

As with any virus, you could carry and transmit Norovirus while showing no symptoms of illness. As infectious as this stomach bug is, most people recover after a few days. While it's responsible for over 70,000 hospitalizations a year, it's rarely deadly. The CDC's rough estimates show that less than 0.004 percent of people who are infected with Norovirus in America die from it. Reportedly, Norovirus-related deaths that occur among residents living in nursing homes are usually caused by aspiration or exacerbation of other chronic diseases. Dehydration is a concern due do the virus' nature, but the illness is usually self-limiting. While most people will catch Norovirus several times, most people also get better with no treatment.

[Featured Image by Chombosan/Shutterstock]