Norovirus Remains Active: How AffinEco & You Can Help

By Sue Minichiello

norovirus_a580px_CDC.8605313_stdA new strain of norovirus has been sweeping the globe and is the current leading strain in the U.S., accounting for more than 140 outbreaks since September 2013. Having first surfaced in Sydney, Australia in 2012, it’s now commonly known as the Sydney strain.

Norovirus in general is a highly contagious virus that causes gastroenteritis–inflammation of the stomach and intestines–and can infect anyone. There’s no vaccine to prevent it and no drug to treat it.

According to the CDC, each year in the U.S. there are 19 to 21 million norovirus cases (that’s about 1 in every 15 Americans), which contribute to more than 50,000 hospitalizations and over 550 deaths. For most people, symptoms last 1 to 3 days and are not life-threatening. Treatment usually involves bed rest and adequate hydration. But norovirus can be serious in young children, the elderly and people with other health conditions.

When it hits, it tends to hit hard and fast. In early March a norovirus outbreak at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Center in Charlestown, MA sickened 22 out of 132 inpatients and three staff members within 24 hours. In mid-February, the Mohonk Mountain Resort in New York’s Hudson Valley had to shutdown for a thorough disinfection of the premises. In January, doctors at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, CT reported an increase in ER patients with norovirus.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping. Less common symptoms include low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and general fatigue. People with norovirus illness are contagious from the moment they begin feeling sick until at least 3 days after they recover.

Public health officials across the country say the norovirus is still active. That’s why AffinEco remains vigilant with related cleaning and disinfecting practices, and why individuals need to be on alert, too.

Norovirus is spread by:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated
  • Having direct contact with an infected person, for example, by sharing food or utensils
  • Touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then your face and mouth

AffinEco works closely with cleaning products distributors like EBP Supply Solutions and Strauss Paper Company to ensure it stays up to date on developments in cleaning practices, guidelines and products related to health in the workplace, including norovirus.

According to Strauss Paper Sales Executive Gary Olson, viruses and bacteria can live and thrive on the surfaces that building occupants routinely touch throughout the day. “Surfaces such as desktops, telephones, keyboards and doorknobs are breeding grounds. They should be disinfected regularly with a disinfectant registered with the EPA that has a kill claim for norovirus.”

Other high-touch surfaces in the workplace include bathroom and kitchen/break room surfaces, light switches and handrails. Norovirus can live on untreated surfaces from 10 days to more than a month, so proper cleaning and disinfecting are essential to controlling the virus.

“Throughout the year, we concentrate on cleaning high-touch surfaces, but at times like now, we clean these surfaces even more frequently and disinfect them with products certified to kill norovirus and other seasonal viruses and bacteria,” said Frank Cepero, AffinEco Senior Vice President of Operations.

Glenn Rasin, Chemical Specialist with EBP, says that knowing the products and their certified kill claims is vital, as is understanding the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces. “Sanitizers kill 99.99% of what they claim to kill, which sounds pretty good. But that other .01% can mean millions of live viral or bacterial agents left behind. Disinfectants kill 100% of what they claim to kill. So, disinfecting is preferable especially during viral and bacterial outbreaks.”

Olson says that different disinfectants require different procedures in order to be effective. “A registered disinfectant with the norovirus kill claim will do the job as long as the proper dwell time is used. For example, spraying and wiping immediately will not provide the desired results if the surface is supposed to remain wet for five minutes.” AffinEco ensures its staff are trained on the different disinfectant use standards.

In addition to proper disinfection, the most important message to convey to clients is the need for frequent and proper hand washing. “We hand out norovirus, flu and cold prevention tips to our customers and encourage them to do all they can to spread the word about preventing infection,” Cepero said.

Rasin agrees that hand washing is number one, as do the CDC and the public health and medical communities. “You want to wash your hands regularly throughout the day. And you can’t just run them under the faucet for a few seconds. You need to wet them, apply soap, lather and rub for 20 to 30 seconds, and thoroughly rinse and dry,” said Rasin. “People also need to understand that hand sanitizers are not a substitute for washing. They can reduce germs, but they don’t kill norovirus or other viruses. They’re meant to be used as a back-up, although they’re better than nothing if soap and water aren’t available.”

Of course, protecting yourself from norovirus extends beyond the workplace. Here are some at-home tips from the CDC:

Wash your hands often.

  • When you’re sick, don’t prepare food or care for others.
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
  • Cook shellfish to 140 degrees or higher.
  • After vomiting or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect surfaces and wash soiled laundry.

(image courtesy of CDC.gov)