Food Topics Health Trends

Sick of You: Norovirus

It’s almost the peak season of norovirus. Wondering how you can keep yourself and others safe?

Food service is not all fun and games, and dietetics is not all about telling people to eat  more fruits and vegetables.  A large part of dietetics is actually managing food service.  This takes place in hospitals, restaurants, and anywhere else food is served to people.  My first rotation for my dietetic internship is food service management in a hospital kitchen. I had to do a presentation on sanitation, which lead me down the rabbit hole of research showing food service professionals don’t know enough about food borne illness.  That said, I am going to (hopefully) start a series where I talk about different illnesses, and how to prevent them in your own kitchen.

If you couldn’t read the title, today I am discussing norovirus.  Chances are you have gotten norovirus.  It’s that bug that makes you puke your guts out, or shit your guts out, or both.  You probably call it something like “stomach flu,” or “gastroenteritis” or “fuckmepleaseendmysuffering.”  Fortunately, it only lasts a couple days before you are better.  The biggest concern is dehydration, which can definitely impact children under five, or the elderly.  Symptoms of this include faintness, rapid pulse, and exhaustion.

Norovirus can be spread easily, which is why it seems like when one person gets sick, everyone else follows suit.  It can be spread by having contact with poo particles and puke particles.  It can even become airborne if these particles float up in the air.

To prevent it from spreading, make sure to clean and sanitize food surfaces.  This means clearing the mess, and using some sort of chemical (like bleach) to kill the germs.  Cleaning the surface of the mess does not mean it’s free from germs.  Using sanitizer on an area without cleaning it means some germs can be trapped under the mess.

If you are sick, stay home from work.  Do this until two days have passed since you stopped having symptoms. Since norovirus is easy to spread, any fecal or vomit particles you might have on you will get into the air, potentially making others sick.  Hell, you might even reinfect yourself, and I highly doubt you want that.

Norovirus, being a virus, cannot be killed with an antibiotic.  Trying to use an antibiotic to stop it is problematic for a multitude of reasons.  One, you should take your whole prescription and not leaving pills behind because it ensures you won’t leave behind any of the bacteria you were infected with.  Reason two is that prescriptions like that get less potent, meaning they get less effective.  Reason three is that you kill the good bacteria in your gut, which can allow other germs to grow, or promote the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria.  Which is bad.  You cannot get vaccinated against norovirus, because it mutates frequently, and there are multiple versions of it.  Think of norovirus like a cold in your intestines, as disgusting as that sounds.

My role right now in the hospital is to make sure that food safety protocols are followed, and directing the actions of some staff.  Norovirus outbreaks are bad in restaurants, and even worse in hospitals.  Restaurants can get shut down for outbreaks, just look at Chipotle when e coli got several people sick.  Hospitals also have to content with the fact that critically ill people are there, which can include young children and the elderly.  Exposure to other germs can get them very sick.

Norovirus is a shitty illness to get–literally.  Chances are though, it won’t kill you.  If you do get sick, take some time off, and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

What did you all think about this post?  Is food borne illness something you want to learn more about in the future?  Any feedback will help me!


By The Nutrition Punk

I am a dietitian living in Portland, Oregon. I write about a variety of nutrition and heath topics, with the goal of improving people's understanding of food and nutrition so they may be empowered against all the misinformation that is out there.

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