Norovirus: What Building Managers and Cleaning Contractors Need to Know
Norovirus is a complex disease, filled with lots of misunderstandings and myths. For instance, most people think that it is a disease mainly found on cruise ships. This is a myth. Of the more than 21 million cases of norovirus each year in the U.S., the overwhelming majority happen to people on land, not out at sea.
Some other things we should know are the following:
• We can’t get norovirus just by being near someone with the disease. While it is a virus, it is not contagious like a cold. We get norovirus, primarily, by consuming food or touching objects contaminated by the virus.
• We should also know that norovirus is more common in the winter months. It’s not entirely understood why, but it is believed it’s because more people are indoors in the winter. If there is a norovirus incident – for instance, someone vomiting in a restaurant or school – there is a higher likelihood that more people will be indoors in the winter, increasing the chances others will be exposed to the event either directly or indirectly.
• If someone has a vomiting incident in an eating establishment or at a school, it should always be assumed it was caused by norovirus. By making this assumption, we can help prevent the disease from spreading to other people and protect the cleaning workers who will be tasked with cleaning up the incident.
• Norovirus is often referred to as “stomach flu,” however a more apt name for it is “the vomiting disease.” Virtually everyone that comes down with norovirus has several episodes of vomiting. But it’s more than just getting sick in the toilet. Norovirus causes people to have “forceful” vomiting wherever they are, and, as we will discuss in greater detail later, this is the biggest concern for building managers and cleaning professionals.
• In most cases, norovirus comes on very quickly. For instance, many times people get sick with the disease just a few hours after eating at a restaurant in which food is contaminated with the virus. If it happens to other people that ate at that same restaurant, this makes it very easy for public health officials to pinpoint the source of the problem.
• Finally, rarely do people die of norovirus. It typically lasts 48 to 72 hours and it's gone almost as fast as it started.
Regarding the forceful vomiting mentioned earlier, very often what happens is the particulates of the vomit become aerosolized. When this happens, they can land on all types of surfaces in a 25-foot radius. So, if someone touches a counter, water fountain, something on the floor, or some other object within this 25-foot area, it is possible they are touching a surface now contaminated with the disease. When they touch their mouths, there is now an excellent chance they will contract the disease.
Now that we know a bit more about norovirus, we need to know safe and effective steps to clean up a vomiting incident. That will come in our next Kai-Leidoscope. Stay tuned...
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Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor, having owned, operated, and then sold three contract cleaning companies in Northern California.
He is the author of two books about the industry and continues to be a frequent writer for the industry.
Robert is now president of AlturaSolutions Communications, which provides communications and marketing services for organizations in the professional cleaning and building industries.