If you've managed to escape the wave of winter "stomach flu" that is currently going around, consider yourself lucky. Norovirus — a highly-contagious group of viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis — is back in season, and be forewarned, it will make you absolutely miserable. In addition to causing symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and intense stomach pain that usually last from one to three days, norovirus can also cause fever, headaches, body aches, and severe dehydration that can become dangerous if left untreated, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Making things even more difficult, though, is the fact that the virus is hard to kill. Does hydrogen peroxide kill norovirus? It does, and you're going to want to make sure you use it: according to NBC News, norovirus is resistant to many disinfectants, and even the standard stay-safe advice about proper hand washing and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers isn't going to fully protect you from this brutal bug.
According to the CDC, norovirus is the leading cause of outbreaks of diarrhea and vomiting in the United States — mostly because it's so easy to catch and spread. Having contact with someone who has the virus, touching a contaminated surface, or consuming food or drinks contaminated by the virus means you are at risk for getting it yourself, and for passing it on to someone else. And since norovirus particles can live in your stool before you even have any symptoms (not to mention that they can stick around for weeks once you're better), you may not even realize you're spreading it.
Even though norovirus is difficult to avoid, CDC norovirus expert Dr. Aron Hall told NBC News that there are still things you can do to keep yourself safe, including using chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide as a disinfectant. Disinfect For Health suggests mixing a bleach solution containing 3/4 cup of a concentrated EPA-registered bleach product with 1 gallon of water, and using it on all surfaces after washing with soap as usual (norovirus can stick around for days on surfaces). The solution should be left on for at least five minutes before rinsing. Hand-washed dishes are also at risk for carrying norovirus, as is laundry, so using very hot cycles on a dishwasher or laundry machine is key, along with bleach where possible. And since washing machines can actually harbor fecal matter (ick), Reader's Digest recommends running an empty wash cycle with bleach in between washes to ensure the virus doesn't continue to live in your laundry.
Preventing norovirus — or getting on disinfecting duty once someone in your house has already caught it — definitely seems like a lot of work, especially if chances are high you're going to get it, too. But fighting the spread of norovirus is worth it: according to Reader's Digest, norovirus is linked to about 20 million illnesses each year, and is responsible for almost half of the hospitalizations and the vast majority of deaths from gasteroenteritis-related complications. It's also the number one cause of stomach-related illness in children.
Hand washing may not be enough on its own to prevent norovirus from claiming you as its victim, but that doesn't mean it isn't still important. According to Reader's Digest, a 2011 CDC study found that staff in long-term care facilities were six times less likely to have a norovirus outbreak if they washed regularly with soap and water compared to those who used hand sanitizer (unlike cold viruses, hand sanitizer provides no protection against norovirus). But some soap and a quick rinse under the tap isn't enough: University of Michigan professor of epidemiology Allison Aiello told NBC News that proper handwashing should take about 30 seconds, and should consist of "vigorous rubbing using hot water and soap" (and don't forget to clean under your fingernails).
Norovirus is miserable, totally gross, and a bit of a nightmare to try to avoid. But the good news is that hydrogen peroxide and chlorine bleach will absolutely help you fight to keep tummy trouble at bay. Unfortunately, it's a fight you'll also have to keep fighting: like the seasonal flu virus, norovirus mutates, according to NBC News, meaning it can return as a different strain ever year.