With summer around the corner, lots of families will be headed to the lake for picnics, fishing and swimming. And not to rain on anyone’s parade, but every parent should be aware that the Norovirus loves untreated waters just as much as you and the kids do.
What is Norovirus? Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause inflammation of the stomach and large intestine lining. They are the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S.; In other words, severe vomiting and diarrhea.
Noroviruses are the same viruses that give you food poisoning – but they can also be active in waters that are untreated with chlorine such as lakes and ponds.
A norovirus outbreak in July 2014 was linked to a lake near Portland Oregon, and sickened 70 people. Those who swam in the lake were 2.3 times more likely to develop vomiting or diarrhea than those who visited the park but didn’t go in the water. More than half of those who got ill were children between 4–10 years old.
Experts believe the outbreak began after a swimmer infected with norovirus had diarrhea or vomited in the water and other swimmers swallowed the contaminated water. To prevent other people from getting sick, park officials closed the lake to swimmers for 10 days.
“Children are prime targets for norovirus and other germs that can live in lakes and swimming pools because they’re so much more likely to get the water in their mouths,” said Michael Beach, Ph.D, CDC’s associate director for healthy water. “Keeping germs out of the water in the first place is key to keeping everyone healthy and helping to keep the places we swim open all summer.”
Swimmers can help protect themselves, their families and friends by following a few easy and effective steps:
Keep the pee, poop, sweat, and dirt out of the water!
• Don’t swim if you have diarrhea or have been vomiting
• Shower before you get in the water
• Don’t pee or poop in the water
• Don’t swallow lake or pool water
Every hour—everyone out!
• Take kids on bathroom breaks
• Check diapers, and change them in a bathroom or diaper-changing area–to keep germs away from the water.
Noroviruses, like other viruses, don't respond to antibiotics, which are designed to kill bacteria. No antiviral drug can treat noroviruses, but in healthy people the illness should go away on its own within a couple of days.
Children and the elderly are most susceptible to dehydration. Children should be given an oral rehydration solution (such as Pedialyte) to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. Avoid giving your child sugary drinks, which can make diarrhea worse, as well as caffeinated beverages, which can dehydrate them further.
Norovirus is very contagious and can be spread through contaminated food, water, or surfaces.
Summer is a time when families have more opportunities to have fun and spend time together. You can help make sure your picnic or day at the lake doesn’t include the side effects from a norovirus by adhering to the health safety prevention tips listed above.