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Originally Published by Infection Control Today

As most health care professionals know, norovirus, or the stomach flu, consists of viruses that irritate and inflame the stomach and intestine linings. Highly contagious, norovirus can cause days of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever, resulting in severe dehydration, reduced nutrient absorption, and even death.

Norovirus causes an estimated 685 million cases of acute gastroenteritis worldwide each year, according to the CDC. This includes 200 million cases of children, resulting in 50,000 deaths. The virus is responsible for at least 50% of all gastroenteritis outbreaks and is estimated to total $60 billion in health care costs and lost productivity worldwide. And while respiratory virus season is slowing down, norovirus numbers remain in the wrong direction. Statistics from 15 states participating in the CDC’s NoroSTAT surveillance program reported 1,208 outbreaks from August 1, 2023, to April 9, 2024, compared with 986 during the same period last year.

Unlike enveloped respiratory viruses such as influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, and SARS-CoV-2, which are transmitted by airborne particles, Norovirus usually spreads from direct contact with infected fecal matter, vomit, or person or surface. Also, unlike most respiratory viruses, norovirus can live on surfaces, still infecting people, for up to 4 weeks.

Many people, including those in health care, believe alcohol-based hand rub (ABHR) is the answer. Yet scientific research proved long ago it is not. Having worked for 25-plus years developing ABHR formulas, I can attest that ABHR has its place in health care settings, especially in fighting many respiratory viruses such as SARS-CoV-2. However, ABHR is useless against norovirus, making health care professionals more likely to contract the virus. This raises the question: If ABHR is ineffective against norovirus, why do so many health care facilities continue to use it for that purpose?

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