It’s Carnival season, but it’s also the time of year when many virus-related illnesses are spread.
Norovirus is one of many viruses that can be spread in close settings, such as in a Louisiana casino where a recent outbreak infected nearly 200 people.
Wenqing “Wennie” Xu, a consumer food safety specialist for the LSU AgCenter, said there are three primary ways viruses are spread.
“A virus is typically spread by people-to-people contact, consuming contaminated food or water and from contacting contaminated surfaces,” Xu said.
People who have had norovirus can be contagious for up to two weeks after contracting the virus, even though they no longer may feel bad.
Xu said with so many people attending parades this time of year, the probability increases for a virus to spread. Because people are away from their homes, hygiene issues can arise, which increases the risk.
“People are less likely to wash their hands properly when they are not at home,” Xu said. “Hand sanitizers cannot effectively replace hand-washing done correctly.”
Proper hand-washing involves the use of a disinfectant soap, warm water and at least 20 seconds of scrubbing. According to Xu, alcohol-based sanitizers can be used as a supplement, but they should not be used as the primary method for cleansing hands.
Hand-washing should always be done before consuming or preparing any foods.
Symptoms of norovirus and other viruses can include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and a mild fever.
“Most people begin recovering about 48 hours after the initial symptoms show up,” Xu said.
Certain groups are more at risk to viruses. Xu said elderly people, children younger than 5 years old, women who are pregnant and immunocompromised individuals can have greater complications.
“If someone in your home becomes sick, cleaning surfaces, especially in bathrooms, is essential in keeping the virus from spreading,” Xu said.