Protecting against the holiday bug

MARSHALL – The bad news is, a bug going around is highly contagious, fast acting, hard to kill and makes the sufferer utterly miserable. The good news is, it struck during the holiday season when school is out.

It appears to be a norovirus infection, also called Norwalk virus, calcivirus, or viral gastroenteritis. Its symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pains.

For most people, it’s one to three days of misery, but there have been deaths reported nationwide among vulnerable populations.

“With a supervirus, you’re feeling fine, then it hits so hard and so suddenly,” said Jo DeBruycker, manager of the Associated Community Medical Centers (ACMC) Health Learning Center in Willmar. “Think of all the people we know with compromised immune systems: the elderly, children, people on chemotherapy. That’s why it can cause death.”

According to DeBruycker, some assisted living communities have canceled communion services because of the illness.

In early December, an outbreak linked to a high school football celebration banquet in Brooklyn Park left at least 75 people stricken with the bug.

It’s hard to know how prevalent it’s been locally because the Minnesota Department of Health does not classify it as a reportable disease.

“We track cultures, not symptoms,” DeBruycker said. “But it’s very contagious. Noroviruses are transferred through the hands of infected people and at holiday season with all the potluck suppers…”

According to Jason Kloss, environmental health manager at the Murray County office of Southwest Health and Human Services, a norovirus doesn’t grow on food, it exists on surfaces and can last a long time on dry surfaces. It’s hard to kill, and it doesn’t take much to infect someone.

“Just a little piece of lettuce,” Kloss said. “It’s difficult to track because of the ease it spreads. One kid throwing up in a hallway at school, and someone walking into the room will get it. What’s dangerous is when you get to feeling better, and you prepare food for your family. You could be shedding the virus 72 hours after the symptoms are gone.”

Kloss recommends anyone who gets sick should limit contact with other people, don’t prepare food, wash hands frequently, clean and disinfect household surfaces.

“Use one teaspoon of bleach in a gallon of water or those Clorox wipes,” Kloss said. “Disinfect light switches, door knobs, phones and in this day and age, iPads and computer keyboards. Don’t be an ‘Iron Man,’ don’t go to work. A lot of people think it’s only diarrhea, otherwise I feel OK, but you’re contagious. Stay away from other people for 24 hours after the symptoms are gone.”