Sydney is a nice name for such a nasty thing. But that’s what the latest virus making the rounds of schools and daycares is called. Technically named GII.4 Sydney, this strain was originally detected in Australia. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that the very contagious norovirus is infecting people in the United States and around the world.
Someone with the norovirus illness will feel very ill suddenly, throwing up or having diarrhea several times a day. Your doctor may describe it as “acute gastroenteritis” because the virus enflames and irritates your stomach and intestines, causing stomach pain and nausea along with diarrhea and vomiting.
These unpleasant symptoms can be severe in young children and older adults, leading to dehydration. Parents should take note if their sick children cry with few or no tears, or act unusually sleepy or fussy. These are common dehydration symptoms in children, along with a decrease in urination, dry mouth and throat, and dizziness when standing up.
Anyone can get the virus from another infected person or from contaminated surfaces, food or water. It’s the most common cause of “stomach flu” in the U.S., but it isn’t related to the influenza virus at all. Unfortunately, no vaccine exists to protect against it, there is no specific medicine to treat it, and people can “catch it” over and over.
A bit of good news, most people with norovirus illness get better in one to three days.
The best defense for you and your family is to wash your hands with soap and water, thoroughly and often, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers, and always before eating, preparing and handling food. Hand washing is your number one defense against many types of germs and illness.
To help protect your family from the norovirus:
- Everyone in the family should learn how to wash their hands properly with soap and water, and do it often. What is the right way to wash your hands?
Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
Rub your hands together to make lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Sing the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
Rinse your hands well under running water.
Dry your hands using a clean towel, or air-dry them.
- Encourage children to keep their hands away from the face and out of their mouth.
- Wash fruit and vegetables and cook seafood thoroughly. If you are sick, leave meal preparation to someone else. Keep sick kids away from food preparation areas.
- Clean and disinfect contaminated areas. Clean up after vomiting or diarrhea right away. Use a chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of 5–25 tablespoons of household bleach [5.25%] per gallon of water. The EPA also registers disinfectant products that are effective against norovirus. See the list here.
- Wash contaminated laundry thoroughly. Handle items carefully, wash them with detergent on the longest wash cycle, and machine dry them. The CDC recommends using rubber or disposable gloves and washing your hands afterwards.
Because the norovirus is very contagious, if you or your child gets sick, stay home and rest. According to the CDC, the virus remains contagious up to three days after you feel better, and can remain in your stool for up to three weeks.
Drink plenty of fluids to replace fluid lost from throwing up and diarrhea. Sports drinks (without caffeine or alcohol) can help, but the CDC recommends over-the-counter oral rehydration fluids as most helpful for mild dehydration. If you think you or your child is becoming severely dehydrated, call your doctor.
Key facts about Norovirus illness from CDC