There's been an increase in outbreaks of the norovirus in New Jersey and State Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd is reminding residents to take precautions to protect their health.  Norovirus, which is also referred to as stomach flu, viral gastroenteritis or food poisoning, likes the colder weather.

"The best way to avoid the norovirus is to wash your hands often using soap and water," said O'Dowd.  "Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not effective against this virus."

Norovirus Symptoms, Risk-Factors

Norovirus is a highly contagious viral illness which comes on suddenly.  Symptoms include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  Some people can experience low-grade fever, chills, headache, body aches and fatigue.

Most people recover quickly, but serious complications can occur in those with other medical conditions.  Those infected are contagious from the moment they begin to feel sick until as long as two weeks after recovery.

The best way to reduce the risk of getting norovirus is to:

  • Practice good hand hygiene.  Wash your hands with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom and changing diapers.
  • Carefully wash fruits and vegetables and cook oysters and other shellfish before eating
  • Do not prepare food while infected or while you have symptoms of norovirus
  • Food handlers should wait 3 days after they recover from their illness before returning to work.
  • Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces.  After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean surfaces by using bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label or a diluted bleach solution (5-25 tablespoons of household bleach per gallon of water). Never use undiluted bleach.
  • Remove and wash clothing and linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool.  Handle soiled items carefully to avoid spreading the virus. If available, wear rubber, disposable gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash your hands after handling. Items should be washed with detergent at the maximum cycle length and machine dried.
  • Report all outbreaks to the local health department.

What Causes Norovirus?

Noroviruses also are found in the stool and vomit of infected people.  People can become infected by:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus.
  • Touching surfaces or objects that are contaminated with norovirus, and then placing your hand in your mouth.
  • Having direct contact with an infected person; for example, by exposure to the virus when caring for or when sharing food, drinks, or eating utensils with an infected person.