Officials stress healthy habits to avoid virus

Local health officials say washing your hands with soap and water is the most effective way to avoid norovirus, the “stomach bug” that has affected citizens across Catawba County and the state.

There have been multiple outbreak reports throughout North Carolina in the past month, including more than 130 Catawba County residents who contracted the virus at a Conover seafood restaurant.

There have been eight reports of norovirus outbreaks across the state in the past month — including outbreaks in the Charlotte area, Alamance County and Orange County.

“Norovirus is highly contagious,” said Lynne Laws, the community health services manager for Catawba County Public Health (CCPH). “It is very easily spread from person to person, especially in closed environments.”

Laws said it is transferred from person to person by eating or drinking contaminated items, touching areas that are contaminated with the virus and placing your hands in your mouth, or having direct contact with someone who is sick and sharing food, drinks or utensils.

Nearly all of the norovirus cases in Catawba County have been traced back to Harbor Inn Seafood in Conover.

CCPH has documented at least 133 reports of people who became ill after eating at Harbor Inn from Jan. 13-22.

Last week, CCPH announced it will conduct a case study of why some patrons of the Conover restaurant became sick and some did not after dining during that time period.

That study is continuing this week, and public health is expected to give an update soon, said Amy McCauley, community outreach manager at CCPH.

Most local victims of the virus say they have experienced nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, common symptoms of the gastrointestinal illness, state officials said.

The state Department of Health and Human Services said symptoms could also include stomach cramping, and some people may have fever chills, headache, muscle aches and a general sense of fatigue.

The symptoms can begin suddenly, and in most people the illness lasts for about one or two days.

State epidemiologist Dr. Megan Davies says the most effective protection against the illness is to wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water. She says hand sanitizers aren't as effective against the easily transmitted norovirus.

Citizens who contract any of those symptoms should rest, Laws said.

“Stay home, rest, drink plenty of fluids, wash hands frequently and remain out of work or school for the recommended time once (your) symptoms are gone,” Laws said. “See a doctor if symptoms persist."

Virus prevention tips

1. Wash your hands with soap and water, especially after visiting the bathroom and before eating or preparing food.
2. Wash fruits and vegetables carefully before eating them and cook food thoroughly.
3. If you are sick, keep surfaces disinfected with a bleach-based household cleaner.
4. If linens are contaminated, they should be laundered to prevent spreading the virus.
5. If you are sick, stay home from work or school. It is recommended that sick individuals stay at home for at least 48 hours after symptoms subside.