Kids at daycare, elementary, middle and high schools across the country are dropping like flies with a brutal form of stomach flu this year. In fact, one school outside of Chicago had to close for two days last month when more than 800 students and 50 staff members became sick and they had to disinfect the entire school. An elementary school in Rhode Island also had to close to disinfect the school after an outbreak in January. And that's not all—schools from Massachusetts to Michigan and beyond are all getting hit with the virus because kids spread germs like wildfire.
Normally in the news because of outbreaks among cruise ship passengers, the norovirus is highly contagious, and it's spreading in schools all over the U.S. But unlike the run-of-the-mill flu, there's no vaccine.
Symptoms of norovirus include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, watery or loose diarrhea, low-grade fever, headaches and muscle pain. Norovirus season normally peaks between January and March. The CDC says about 70,000 people end up in the hospital every year due to the tough-to-kill virus.
Hand sanitizer isn’t enough to keep you healthy when it comes to norovirus, either—you’ve got to wash your hands with hot water and soap for at least 30 seconds. The virus is resistant to common disinfectants and can live on dishes and bedding, so you should handle those with disposable gloves and wash with very hot water and soap. Bleach clothing, sheets and towels if possible. For all laundry, make sure you wash on the longest cycle and dry everything in the dryer.
The CDC recommends using a 5.25 percent bleach solution (that's about 5 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water) to disinfect contaminated surfaces, especially after vomiting or diarrhea. The virus can live on surfaces for several days even at room temperature, according to the CDC's norovirus expert, Dr. Aron Hall.
The CDC says norovirus can also be found in a person's stool before they even start to feel sick and as long as two weeks after feeling better, so it's important to be extra careful while changing diapers, tossing them in the outside trash, and washing your hands with hot, soapy water after each diaper change as well.
You can also minimize chances of spreading the virus in your household by closing the toilet lid before every flush—especially if someone in your house has had diarrhea or been vomiting—because it helps prevent the virus from going airborne.
And if you've already got norovirus, doctors recommend Pedialyte and other liquids to stave off dehydration. As with most illnesses, common sense should prevail: Avoid sharing food and drinks, or hugging and kissing anyone who is infected. Wash your hands thoroughly, especially before touching food or your eyes, nose or mouth.
There's no treatment for norovirus, but some pediatricians will prescribe anti-nausea medication to help your kids through it. Other than that, screen time for distraction and toughing it out is all you can do.