Michael Wilson

The winter months are right around the corner, meaning administrators in long-term and senior care facilities must start preparing for norovirus. 

Yes, norovirus is seasonal. It’s just one of several strange and unusual facts about this disease. In North America and Europe, the norovirus season typically starts around November and filters away by the end of March.

Here are some additional little-known facts about norovirus that could help keep you healthy this winter 

Norovirus comes on fast

The disease, which causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines, develops quickly. Usually, someone in contact with the pathogens that cause the condition gets sick in about 12 hours. This compares to two to three days for most other types of viruses.

Outbreaks happen anywhere

Many associate noroviruses with cruise ships, but there are far more cases on land than at sea. Because cruise ships hold many people in a relatively confined area, norovirus can usually spread faster, impacting more people more quickly than on land. The speed of the infection and the number of people affected is likely why it gets so much media attention when it happens at sea.

Second only to the common cold

The common cold is the only illness more common than norovirus annually.

Facilities most impacted

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most commonly reported settings for norovirus outbreaks are long-term care facilities, nursing homes, healthcare facilities, restaurants, catering businesses and banquet facilities.

It’s on the map

The CDC and other organizations maintain norovirus maps. These maps indicate the number of cases reported in different parts of the country and what may be causing them. For instance, the June 2022 CDC norovirus map reports an outbreak of norovirus illness linked to raw oysters from British Columbia, Canada. These raw oysters have been distributed – potentially spreading the disease – to U.S states nearby, as well as Texas, New York and Maine. 

How it spreads

Norovirus is spread via cross-contamination. Usually, what happens is someone with the virus vomits. This causes tiny particulates to become airborne and land on nearby objects, as much as 25 feet away. Someone else touches those contaminated objects (or if they land on food, they consume the contaminated food) and then touches their nose, eyes or mouth. This spreads the disease. And it does not take much. The number of particulates on the head of a pin is enough to infect more than 1,000 people

These pathogens are survivors

Whereas most germs, bacteria and viruses that land on surfaces only survive a few hours or a day, norovirus pathogens can last a few days, even a week, or more.

The role of disinfectants and antibiotics

As we will discuss later, some disinfectants can eradicate the pathogens that cause norovirus. Antibiotics, however, do not work on viruses.

It’s a game changer

During the pandemic, we witnessed new virus strains materialize while others slowly disappeared. The same is true of the pathogens that cause norovirus. They change over time. About every two to three years, an entirely new strain of norovirus is reported.

The numbers Are rising

The September 23, 2022, issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report reported that the number of norovirus outbreaks has increased, returning to pre-pandemic levels. They also noted that “fifty-nine percent of outbreaks occurred in long-term care facilities.” The report estimates that about 20 million people contract norovirus a year in the U.S., and that number inches up yearly. Also going up are the number of people hospitalized each year (about 100,000) and those who die from the disease (about 1,000).

Effective cleaning: The best defense

Because norovirus is spread through cross-contamination, the more thoroughly and effectively an area is cleaned – especially after a vomiting incident – the more likely the disease can be contained. However, because it spreads quickly and long-term/senior care facilities are some of the most impacted settings, this is no time for online, trial-and-error product selection.

If norovirus is suspected this year or your facility is planning now to address the norovirus challenge, the first thing to do is contact a janitorial distributor. If part of a network of distributors, these industry professionals are likely being updated by major cleaning solution manufacturers about the disease and the cleaning solutions, sanitizers and disinfectants that can best help contain it.

Among the tools the distributor will likely advise selecting are the following:

  • Specific disinfectants are designed to eliminate the pathogens that cause norovirus. This is crucial. Not all disinfectants are effective. 
  • Spill pads large enough to absorb large amounts of vomit. These are typically 12 inches by 12 inches. Several should be available.
  • Mop heads and poles. Because most floors are cleaned by mopping, fresh mops should be stored to handle such spill incidents. These mops – including the mop poles – will need to be disposed of after use, as will any cleaning cloth used in the cleaning process.
  • Yellow trash bags. The color denotes caution. The bags should also be tied with twist ties. 
  • Disposable aprons or gowns, shoe covers, masks and face shields for your housekeepers. Housekeepers should also wear disposable gloves.

The final step involves training, which should be conducted by the distributor well before there is an incident. Along with avoiding online trial-and-error purchasing, we do not want the housekeepers guessing what to do should a suspected norovirus incident occur. 

An astute distributor will advise housekeepers on how to perform a safe but effective norovirus cleanup. This will ensure their health is protected, as well as the health of all those using your facility.

Michael Wilson is AFFLINK’S Senior Vice President of Marketing. He has been with the organization since 2005 and provides strategic leadership for the entire supply chain team.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.