Last week, we had a lovely, lovely trip to Disney World with some friends. The last three days of our trip, I planned to spend relaxing with my in-laws in their new condo in Florida. (Yes, I am capable of being with my in-laws AND relaxing at the same time, lucky me.)
Except, my few days of relaxation were rudely, rudely interrupted at 4am the day after our arrival to the condo with an onslaught of horrible gastrointestinal symptoms that were relentless and for your benefit, I will not describe. I can say with certainty, I have never been so ill. By that afternoon, I was in the ER, a bag of fluids pumping into my veins as well as what ever anti-nausea miracle drug the doctors gave me. It was there that I learned I had most likely contracted the dreaded norovirus.
The whole time I kept thinking – HOW. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN TO ME. I am the most OCD hand washer I know. My hands look like the hands of a 90 year old woman because they’re so dried out from years of hand washing and hand sanitizing. At Disney World I was frantically waving hand sanitizer at everyone the second we got off a ride, hoisting Charlotte up to sink after sink after we used the bathroom, and yes, even wiping down our eating areas with disinfectant wipes before we sat down. I even spray Lysol on our hotel phones and remote controls the second we arrive to the hotel.
So – let me tell you how I most likely caught the lovely norovirus.
First of all, norovirus is ridiculously contagious. It only takes 10-20 virus particles to infect you and for comparison, the average sneeze of a flu infected person contains 16,000 flu virus particles.
For the most part though, norovirus is not airborne. Except in vomit. Yes, if you are near someone who is vomiting thanks to norovirus, you can suck those particles right in. This could easily happen in public restrooms and I definitely visited a few of those, so that’s a possibility. The other and most common way norovirus is spread is virus particles, (most likely from fecal matter), on the not properly washed hands of an infected person. I mean, I washed my hands and even used hand sanitizer after I was done in the bathroom as well as every other public area I was in…
WAIT. Guess what else? The jury is still out as to whether or not hand sanitizer kills norovirus. Hand washing is still the number one way to clean your hands, but if you’re in between bathrooms and touch something icky, and hope the sanitizer will save you? Think again.
We did visit some buffets, but again, I was pretty diligent with the hand washing. But, what about the people making our food? Another common way norovirus is transmitted is by food that was handled by someone with the virus who didn’t properly wash their hands. Personally, I think this is the most likely way I caught the virus, because no one else in our party came down with it. Including Charlotte, thank goodness.
I’m also thankful I got sick while I was with family so they were able to take care of Charlotte while I quarantined myself to a different part of the house. And trust me, when people would have you believe this is something that is gone in 1-3 days, that is simply not true. Yes, the major symptoms will be gone – but here I am, a full week later – eight pounds lighter and with a very sensitive stomach. My energy is zapped and my brain still foggy. If this had happened at the beginning of our trip, it would have been completely ruined.
Will this dissuade me from travel in the future? Absolutely not. But, I will always be prepared with plenty of stomach medicine. I’ve also researched which hand sanitizer is effective against norovirus and the favorite seems to be this Clorox one: Clorox 02174 Bleach-Free Hand Sanitizer Spray: 6-Pack of 2 oz Bottles – kills Norovirus (Feline Calicivirus). Bundled with a magnet.
It’s spendy compared to other hand sanitizers, but there’s no way I will ever travel without it again.
For the record, I travel almost monthly and have done so for the last decade, (including a number of cruises), and this is the first time I’ve ever come down with this. I’d say that’s a pretty good record. Stick with the hand washing and good hygiene, and odds are you will be ok – but you can never be too prepared.