Being bent over the toilet bowl is not a pleasant experience, though gastric flu is something that almost everyone experiences at some point. The virus is highly contagious, however some simple steps can curb contagion and reduce the risk of spreading.
Around this time of year, it is quite common for people to suffer from gastroenteritis or gastric flu. The most frequent pathogen for this is Norovirus. This small virus is highly contagious between humans. Even a very small dose is enough to cause infection. Many people refer to this virus as the gastric flu. Usually people get this virus by ingesting material contaminated with small amounts of infected faeces or fluids. Food and water can be contaminated during processing or handling and this infectious disease is highly transmissible from one person to the other.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms include vomiting and watery diarrhoea or both and illness usually lasts two to three days and usually resolves by itself.

Transmission

An infected person with vomiting or diarrhoea can contaminate their environment directly or indirectly spread virus particles through aerosolized droplets when vomiting; however, the main route is by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus. Contamination may also occur in food and/or in water, which has led to infection spreading widely in restaurants, institutions or aboard cruise ships. Outbreaks of norovirus illness occur in nursing homes, hospitals, schools, banquet halls, summer camps, and even at family dinners. These are all places where people often eat food handled or prepared by others. In fact Norovirus causes about half of all outbreaks of food-related illness. Food workers cause most reported norovirus outbreaks from contaminated food.

gastric flu
Norovirus may have a prolonged infectious period that starts even before a patient gets sick. There is a short incubation period (up to two days) between the time that people acquire the virus and the time they get symptoms. People may be contagious during this period and whilst they have symptoms. When the symptoms resolve and the person appears to have recovered completely after a norovirus infection, he/she may continue to shed the virus for weeks in their stool and hence may be a source of infection to others directly or through food.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment or medication for norovirus. Norovirus infection cannot be treated with antibiotics because it is a viral (not a bacterial) infection. It is important that infected individuals remain well hydrated, drinking plenty of fluids. Although most cases of norovirus infection are mild, complications may occur. Complications are related to the degree of dehydration. People who cannot keep up with fluid losses may require hospitalization for intravenous fluids.

Prevention

gastric flu

Once a person is sick, it is important for all members of the household to use good hand hygiene. Hands should also be washed before preparing food or touching the face. Many studies have shown that washing hands with soap and water is the best and most effective way to reduce infection transmission. Make sure to use running water and rub over entire hand surface (palms, backs of hands, between fingers and thumbs, nails)
Cutlery and dishes should not be shared. Diluted chlorine bleach (five to 25 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water) may be used to clean solid surfaces. Other disinfectants can help decontaminate some surfaces.
Fruits and vegetables should be washed carefully before eating them.

A common source of norovirus is seafood. Seafood such as oysters and other shellfish should be cooked thoroughly before eating them. Studies show that noroviruses are relatively resistant. They can survive temperatures as high as 60°C and quick steaming processes that are often used for cooking shellfish.
People who are sick should not prepare food for others or provide healthcare. This also applies to sick workers in settings such as schools and daycares where they may expose people to norovirus.
It is also important to wash laundry thoroughly. If items are soiled, handle them carefully without agitating them, wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled items and wash your hands after, and wash the items with detergent at the maximum available cycle length then machine dry them.

For more information contact the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate on 23266000.

© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Dr Charmaine Gauci