What You Need to Know About Norovirus
Many people are unaware of the fact that norovirus tends to be a seasonal disease – typically, the “season” for norovirus is from late October through May. Another thing many of us may be unaware of is that there are far more cases of norovirus on land than at sea; when they happen on a cruise ship, however, it becomes much more newsworthy because the disease can spread so quickly.
The Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) provides a list of other things we should know about norovirus:
- There are about 20 million cases of norovirus each year in the U.S.
- Norovirus contributes to approximately 70,000 hospitalizations each year and about 800 deaths.
- On land, most outbreaks occur in food service settings like restaurants, office or school cafeterias and similar food service operations.
- Unlike other types of airborne pathogens that may die within hours after landing on a surface, norovirus pathogens can live up to two weeks.
Norovirus is often referred to as the “vomiting disease.” This is because it causes what is referred to as forceful vomiting, meaning that the disease-causing pathogens in the vomit may travel and land on nearby touchable surfaces as much as 25 feet away from the incident. Touching these surfaces is one way the disease is spread.
Stopping the spread of norovirus is highly dependent on two things: the training level of the cleanup crew and the tools used for cleanup operations.
Training and Tools
Many state health departments provide information for restaurants and food service locations on what steps to take, what steps to not take, and how to clean up a vomiting incident.
We should note that when such an incident does occur in a restaurant or food service location, it must always be assumed that it was caused by norovirus. Facility managers should do the same; making this assumption helps protect the health of cleaning workers as well as building users.
When cleaning up a vomiting incident, or any dangerous spill on floors and surfaces, facility managers are also advised to have a spill control program in place. Such a program helps guide cleaning workers as to what cleaning steps must be taken and suggests the types of tools and equipment necessary to do the job.
As we will explain later, some spill control programs are designed to make the entire process a bit less unpleasant. This is significant. Making this task as safe, quick and painless as possible encourages cleaning workers do a more thorough and effective job.
The key components of a spill control program include the following:
- Make sure no one is within 25 feet of the incident except cleaning workers.
- The clean-up crew must put on protective gear; some manufacturers offer spill cleanup kits that include the necessary protective gear workers will need to wear including gloves, shoe covers, aprons, gowns, face masks, etc.
- Use a spill pad to cover the vomit. Spill pads are not the same when it comes to absorbency—the more absorbent the spill pad is, the less unpleasant the task is for the worker, as we referenced earlier. This is because the pad removes the material more quickly and effectively. Some pads are nearly ten times more absorbent than others; using a more absorbent pad is recommended.
- Use a disinfectant with a norovirus kill claim to soak the pad before using the pad to clean up the vomit. The area should be wiped down two additional times using the disinfectant and disposable towels. All items and towels should be placed in a disposable bag as they are used.
- Put all cleaning tools in a disposable trash bag, close the bag securely with a twist tie and place in an outside dumpster.
- Wash hands thoroughly.
Who Should Handle the Job?
We have been referring to the “cleaning workers” throughout this article with the assumption that they will be around to clean an area where someone has been sick. In most facilities, at least during the day, that will not always be the case. However, most mid-sized and larger facilities will have management staff on hand; these are the people that will typically be tasked with the job.
It is advised that at least one of these people be thoroughly trained in cleanup operations. They should also be involved in selecting the tools necessary to do the job, such as selecting the spill cleanup kits mentioned earlier. This way, they are familiar with the steps that must be taken and know what tools, protective gear and absorbent pads they will need to do the job. This helps the entire process move along much faster.
Edward Sharek is Category Manager of Facility-Employee Safety at DayMark Safety Systems, manufacturers of a wide variety of products designed to enhance food safety, personal safety, and facility safety. He can be reached through his website at www.daymarksafety.com.