If you've managed to escape the winter "stomach flu," 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. Making things even more difficult, though, is the fact that the virus is hard to kill. Does hydrogen peroxide kill norovirus? You may want to stock up.
"Bottom line: Hydrogen peroxide works," Dr. Juan Leon, Ph.D., a global health associate professor at Emory University, tells Romper. And, you're going to want to make sure you use it. According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Food Protection, 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.
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, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Other symptoms of norovirus include nausea and intense stomach pain that usually last from one to three days. The CDC reports norovirus can also cause fever, headaches, body aches, and severe dehydration that can become dangerous if left untreated — which is all the more reason why you want to make sure you're preventing it from spreading.
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, there are still things you can do to keep yourself safe. Chlorine bleach and hydrogen peroxide are two effective disinfectants, Leon says.
The CDC suggests mixing a bleach solution containing 3/4 cup of a concentrated EPA-registered bleach product with one 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. "[A bleach solution], time and time again, study after study, has been shown to inactivate the virus to a degree that no longer makes it infectious for people," Leon says.
Dirty dishes and laundry are also at risk for carrying norovirus, he adds. Make sure to use hot cycles on the dishwasher and laundry machine, along with bleach where possible. And since washing machines can actually harbor fecal matter (ick), researchers recommend 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 a 2018 research study, 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 gastroenteritis 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. 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 their hands 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. The CDC recommends lathering soap on the back of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. You should scrub for at least 20 seconds, and then rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
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 can return as a different strain every year.
Callewaert, C., Van Nevel, S., Kerckhof, F.-M., Granitsiotis, M. S., & Boon, N. (2015). Bacterial Exchange in Household Washing Machines. Frontiers in Microbiology. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.01381
Mattison, C. P., Cardemil, C. V., & Hall, A. J. (2018). Progress on norovirus vaccine research: public health considerations and future directions. Expert Review of Vaccines, 17(9), 773–784. doi: 10.1080/14760584.2018.1510327
Tung, G., Macinga, D., Arbogast, J., & Jaykus, L.-A. (2013). Efficacy of Commonly Used Disinfectants for Inactivation of Human Noroviruses and Their Surrogates. Journal of Food Protection, 76(7), 1210–1217. doi: 10.4315/0362-028x.jfp-12-532
Updated Norovirus Outbreak Management and Disease Prevention Guidelines. (2011). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 60(3). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/rr/rr6003.pdf
Additional reporting by Eden Lichterman
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