Why Soap and Water Is Your Best Defense Against Norovirus

Spending a few extra seconds in the bathroom now can help prevent spending hours or days in it later.

Norovirus is a contagious virus typically spread when fecal matter or vomit from an infected person reaches another person’s mouth, often from eating contaminated food, touching contaminated objects and then putting fingers into the mouth or sharing food or eating utensils with an infected person.

The “stomach bug” virus commonly causes diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and stomach pain, and symptoms may include fever, headaches and body aches. Although sometimes referred to as “winter vomiting bug,” norovirus actually knows no season. Unlike rotavirus, another common fecal-oral virus, there is no vaccine to protect against norovirus.

Unfortunately, fecal matter making its way into mouths is not rare, said Elizabeth Ford, MD, a ProMedica Physician.

“It’s much, much, much more common than people would like to think about or admit,” she said, noting that the virus can easily spread from the kitchen. “Food preparation is a big one,” she said. “The virus can spread to multiple people all at one time.”

The easiest way to stop the transmission of norovirus is proper hand hygiene, Ford said.

“Soap and water. The alcohol-based hand sanitizers actually don’t seem to get this one very well,” she said. “Physically removing the virus off of the hands is the way to do it if you’re around anybody who has a stomach bug. The hand sanitizers are not going to do it.”

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Using proper hand hygiene while using the bathroom is also important, Ford noted.

“After you’ve washed your hands, then you turn the faucet off with your clean hand, your clean hand is now dirty again,” she said, noting that using elbows or paper towels to turn off the faucet and open the door may be necessary when touchless sinks are not available.

Although most adults will be symptom-free after a few days with proper hydration, norovirus can actually remain in a person’s stool for up to a month after contracting it, Ford said.

Being vigilant about using soap and water will help minimize one’s chances of contracting the virus.

“Really being aware of hand hygiene all the time rather than just when you hear somebody is sick is the best way to avoid those widespread illnesses,” she said.