If the flu or stomach virus haven’t visited your family so far this winter, consider yourself lucky—very lucky. Elevated cases of influenza have been reported in all 50 states and a new highly contagious strain of norovirus is putting millions of kids and adults alike out of commission.
The good news? While cases are still rising in the southwest and northwest, the flu epidemic overall appears to be calming down. “Nationally influenza-like-illness seems to be leveling off,” the Centers for Disease Control said in statement.
The bad news? The norovirus isn’t showing any signs of stopping, and the new strain is responsible for more than half of reported cases. Sometimes called “winter vomiting disease,” norovirus can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting. There are 21 million cases annually in the United States.
Want to keep these bugs at bay?
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. We’re talking really sudsy and for a full 20 seconds (that’s two rounds of “Happy Birthday”). Make sure your kids are scrubbing up too, especially before meals, after using the bathroom and right after leaving a public place like school or the mall.
- Slab on stronger hand sanitizer. If there’s not a sink in sight, hand sanitizer is your best bet, with one caveat: It needs at least 60 percent alcohol to kill bugs, says Philip Tierno Ph.D., an associate professor of microbiology and pathology at New York University.
- Wipe it down (repeat). The norovirus can live on surfaces for long periods and it only takes a tiny amount to get the bug, so disinfect popular spots in your home often. "Paying attention to the high-traffic areas where germs linger, like countertops, phones, and doorknobs, is more important," Tierno says. If you’re cleaning with wipes, use a different one for each surface you touch so you don’t spread the bad stuff.
- Clean up your cooking. Rinse fruits and veggies before eating them, every time. Be sure to cook all shellfish and produce thoroughly.
- Sick? Take a break. If you do come down with the flu or norovirus, turn in your spatula—pronto. Experts advise you wait two to three days after your recovery to start cooking for others again. (Kind of makes the flu seem more appealing, doesn’t it?!)
Has your family gotten flu or norovirus? Leave a comment.