Norovirus, like many other viruses, is spread primarily through the “fecal-oral route”, as some call it. In other words, the virus must be ingested into the body in order to produce symptoms. Once inside the body, the virus is present in fecal matter and vomit, therefore if that infected person does not wash his or her hands after using the bathroom, he can infect the objects or surfaces he touches. He can also pass the virus on through his vomit.
How norovirus is spread
• Lack of proper hand washing. Norovirus mainly spreads due to the lack of proper hand washing after using the bathroom or changing diapers. Your hands may look clean after using the bathroom or changing a baby’s diaper, but there may be microscopic germs lurking that can transfer from your hands to the toilet handle, faucet, toilet seat, towel, and door handle. If you work in a restaurant, handling the food without having properly washed hands can certainly infect the food, spreading it to whoever eats it. This is why you see large signs in most restaurant’s bathrooms, reminding employees (and customers) to wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom.
• Clothes, toys, carpet, etc. Sure, your chances of getting norovirus decrease when you take the time to thoroughly wash your hands after changing a diaper or coming into contact with someone else who has norovirus. However, the truth is that the virus can latch onto plenty of other objects besides hands. For example, let’s say your child has the “stomach bug” and vomits on the couch. Sure, you remove his clothes and put them in the laundry and wash both of you up, but there’s a good chance a microscopic speck is still lurking on the couch, floor, toys, or other places near where the vomiting took place.
• Norovirus can be airborne temporarily. Usually people don’t think they can get the bug from someone if they’re sitting across the room and never get close to them, but experts’ state that the virus can be temporarily airborne. This means that those who aren’t even close to the person vomiting have a chance at ingesting the virus while it is airborne. This idea is verified from one study in which one person vomited while eating at a hotel dining room. The result? Some people from all over the dining room got norovirus too, but it wasn’t because they came into direct contact with the virus. It was because the virus became temporarily airborne.
• Norovirus is in saliva. According to this study, norovirus is present in saliva, making the virus very catchy for those who share drinks, food, and lips. In the study, a family of six contracted norovirus and agreed to have their saliva tested every day for over two weeks. Out of 18 days tested, norovirus was present in their saliva for 9 to 13 days. The real interesting part of this study is that they tested positive AFTER they had already stopped vomiting, meaning their saliva was most contagious once they thought they were over the virus.
• Ingesting contaminated water and food. You’ll hear a lot about people getting stomach viruses in Third World countries due to the poor sanitation. Here in the United States, we tend to call this “food poisoning”, as norovirus can easily get into food and water from an infected person or from a person who does not clean their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom. Food poisoning can also occur when contaminated water from a sewage line is used to water produce.