Why you need to know about Norovirus and Shigella
Current Risk Awareness and Prevention
Cases of Norovirus and Shigella — both commonly called stomach bugs — are once again spiking across the United States, according to recent public health alerts from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A recent CDC national survey shows the number of confirmed Norovirus positive cases mark a 12-month high. In turn, the CDC also reports a concerning rise in the antibiotic-resistant XDR strains of Shigella, increasing from zero in 2015 to 5% in 2022.
Highly contagious, both Norovirus and Shigella spread through direct and indirect contact, making the workplace vulnerable to outbreaks. However, the potential spread can be managed with a careful prevention program. With this in mind, we break down the differences and similarities of both diseases, and how best to protect your facility’s occupants.
What are Norovirus and Shigella?
Norovirus refers to a group of related viruses that causes gastroenteritis (an inflammation of the stomach and intestines). Shigella is a bacterium that also causes intestinal inflammation, leading to dysenteric diarrhea called shigellosis.
Symptoms of Norovirus infections include severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. Though less likely to cause upper digestive issues like vomiting, Shigella does cause severe stomach symptoms similar to the Norovirus, in addition to fever, cramps and tenesmus. Both commonly spread through direct contact with an infected person or by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching one’s mouth or nose. Both diseases are also contracted by consuming contaminated food and liquids.
Why are Norovirus and Shigella concerning right now?
The COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 deeply influenced the current surge of Norovirus and Shigella. The years 2020 and 2021 saw a significant lull in cases, thanks to heightened hygiene practices such as hand washing, increased disinfection of surfaces and general social distancing. This created an “immunity gap,” as the general immunity of a population decreases due to lack of exposure to new strains.
The drug-resistant XDR Shigella strains in particular pose a special concern. These new strains show resistance to five of the most common antimicrobial treatments. This severely limits the medical treatments available to fight against these virulent strains. In the future, the XDR strains’ antimicrobial resistance may also potentially spread to other types of bacteria like E. Coli or Salmonella.
Careful hand washing dramatically cuts down the spread of both Norovirus and Shigella, so properly stocked restroom soap dispensers remain crucial. In addition, though hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol can kill Shigella, hand sanitizers cannot kill Norovirus, as alcohol alone cannot penetrate the virus’s protective shield. However, washing with simple soap and water can break down the norovirus. Educational signs in public restrooms outlining these limitations can inform occupants on the best ways to protect themselves.
Both diseases spread from the distribution of tiny particles released through body fluid such as fecal and vomit matter. Thorough and frequent cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces is key. This especially applies to vulnerable spaces like restrooms and any food service areas. At SparkleTeam, we follow recommended disease-prevention cleaning methods. This includes using EPA-registered antimicrobial disinfectants, as well as microfiber cleaning tools that capture up to 99% of Norovirus and Shigella.
In addition to regular cleaning and disinfection, facilities should also request additional targeted cleaning of any areas potentially exposed during a confirmed outbreak of either Norovirus or Shigella. This also applies for areas where bodily fluids were discharged from infected persons, which requires special biohazard cleaning. Just one confirmed case is enough to spark a rapid spread of both diseases through a facility.