CLEVELAND CLINIC NEWS NETWORK - With news coming out of the Winter Olympic Games about a significant spread of norovirus, many athletes are on high alert to avoid catching the stomach bug.
According to Dan Allan, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic, norovirus is troublesome because not only is it easy to catch, it's very hard to kill.
"It can last for weeks on a counter, on an elevator button or even on a doorknob," said Dr. Allan. "If somebody doesn't wash their hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom, you can catch it. Norovirus is not killed with hand sanitizer, so you must practice very good hand-washing."
Dr. Allan said norovirus can be spread almost anywhere people are in close contact with one another.
Most people get it either by direct contact with someone who has it, or by touching a surface that has been contaminated with the virus.
Symptoms, which include nausea, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea, will usually begin to appear within a day or two and most people recover within one to three days.
Dr. Allan said some people who catch norovirus can remain contagious for days or even weeks afterwards.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that norovirus accounts for more than 20 million illnesses each year, and that the average person will catch it about five times in their lifetime.
Norovirus is more common during cold weather months, but it can strike year-round.
And while the illness is also referred to as the 'stomach flu' Dr. Allan said it is not at all related to influenza, so a flu vaccine will not protect people from catching it.
Norovirus cannot be treated with antibiotics and those who get sick are typically advised to get plenty of fluids, rest, and avoid contact with others to keep the illness from spreading.
"Since it's so contagious, you need very few viral particles to be exposed in order to catch it - it's much more contagious than many other viruses," said Dr. Allan. "When you have a lot of people close together, it can actually be caught through the air as well. If somebody is sick or they're vomiting, the particles can be airborne."