Apparently, Norovirus Is Immune to Hand Sanitizer. So How Can You Protect Yourself From the Infamous Stomach Bug?

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Cruise ships and daycares are notoriously susceptible to norovirus, the hideously unpleasant, coming-out-of-both-ends sort of stomach bug. If you’d like to Nancy Drew the why behind the overlap of this unfortunate Venn diagram, you could start with germs and close quarters, which make both locations populating petri dishes for communal germ exchange.

However, unlike the common cold and other germs that can be killed by regular disinfecting wipe-downs and hand sanitizer breaks, norovirus is actually immune to most alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

What is norovirus?

Let’s backtrack a bit, Nancy Drew, and get an idea of what exactly norovirus is. “Norwalk or noroviruses are single-stranded RNA viruses that can infect humans and cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea," according to Roger Seheult, MD, a medical advisor to Intrivo and On/Go. The CDC reports that these outbreaks are common and spread quickly through contaminated foods and surfaces, most often from November to April. Though most people recover just fine, it's definitely unpleasant.

Experts In This Article

So why does it evade hand sanitizer? At a teeny tiny microscopic level, this is because these viruses have a little helmet-like covering called a “capsid” that alcohol cannot penetrate effectively, Dr. Seheult helpfully explains.

A better bet: According to UCLA Health, hand washing thoroughly—and for enough time—can rid your mits of the virus because soap lubricates those pathogens, friction lifts them from your hands, and the running water sends them on their way down the drain.

“Anyone can catch norovirus," says Dr. Seheult. "It’s quite hard to kill norovirus. Even with good hand washing, it takes scrubbing with soap and hot water for at least 30 seconds to be able to eliminate the virus. This is why cruise ship outbreaks are not uncommon."

Your best bet is to stay aware of the risk around you. So, for example, if you hear about a case in your child’s daycare or you are on a cruise with an outbreak, you'll know it's time to put some extra elbow grease into washing your hands and focus on not touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.

How to sanitize your home when someone has norovirus

The virus is hard to kill, and it’s even more potent when infected bodily substances (ahem, vom, or poo) are present in an area like a family bathroom. Never fear; there is a way to ward off this nasty stomach bug, though.

Infected areas (with vomit or feces) should be cleaned with a bleach solution (3/4 cup in one gallon of water) that you let sit for five minutes, says Dr. Seheult. This should be done with gloves on. Both your hands and the surface should be washed with soap and water afterward. The CDC also recommends that infected individuals not prepare food for at least two days after showing symptoms.

Even though this kind of illness can really bring you to your knees (literally, emotionally, spiritually), Dr. Seheult reminds us that most infected people feel sick for a little while but fully recover in 12 to 60 hours. Just make sure to stay on top of your hydration as much as possible because vomiting and diarrhea cause you to lose more water. Plus, hydration supports a healthy immune system, which you're gonna need to fight this thing off.

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