ORANGE COUNTY – Officials from the Orange County Health Department say that a Norovirus outbreak has not moved into our area, though outbreaks have flared up across the state.

Pam McCall, Personal Health Services Director for the Orange County Health Department, explains that Norovirus is a highly contagious gastrointestinal illness which is most common during the winter months. Outbreaks have been reported in Alamance, Henderson, Burke, and Beaufort Counties, according to the Associated Press.

“It is not a fun illness to have, but it is pretty self-limiting and usually goes away in one to three days,” McCall says.

The symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and possibly stomach cramping. Some people may also have fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a general sense of tiredness. The illness begins suddenly, and the infected person may feel very sick. There are no specific medications to treat Norovirus.

“It can be dangerous for people who have their immune system compromised because they can become dehydrated. That is the main danger with people who have some kind of underlying medical condition. The elderly and young children are probably the most at-risk for that,” McCall says.

Norovirus is present in the stools and vomit of sick people during illness and for a few days after they recover.

People can get sick through direct contact with a person who has the virus, by touching contaminated surfaces, or by eating food or drinking liquids that have been contaminated with the virus.

McCall says the most effective way to prevent the spread of the Norovius is through hand washing.

“Some of these waterless hand sanitizers are not effective against the Norovirus, so you really need to use soap and warm water and vigorously wash your hands after you go to the bathroom and before you prepare food,” McCall says. “If you do have a diarrheal illness like this, do not prepare food for other people up until 48 hours after the symptoms resolve.”

Epidemiologist Nicole Lee, of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Department, says that there are several illnesses that must be reported to the health department in accordance with state laws. Lee says that individual cases of the Norovirus are not required to be reported, but outbreaks of the virus are.

“It really is more of a state-wide issue where we would want people to know to stay home if you are ill. We get reports of people who are symptomatic, and what we are seeing is that there are outbreaks from November to April. We are starting to get reports in various counties,” Lee says.

Many commonly used disinfectants are not effective against Norovirus. McCall recommends cleaning with a diluted bleach solution to disinfect surfaces after an episode of the illness.

Public health experts recommend the following measures to protect yourself and your family from Norovirus:

  • Clean up vomit and diarrhea immediately.
  • Do not prepare food for others to eat while you are sick and for at least 48 hours afterward.
  • Even after symptoms are gone, wash your hands frequently, especially after going to the bathroom.
  • Remember that you can spread the virus for days, and sometimes weeks, after the illness ends.