Many people say politics turn their stomachs. However, it isn't ideological differences making people ill at the Republican National Convention - it's norovirus. Currently 11 members of California's RNC delegation are being treated for symptoms consistent with the virus, and there are concerns that more people may become infected. "Norovirus is miserable and extremely contagious," says Andrew Pavia, MD, pediatric infectious disease chief at University of Utah Health Care. "It can be spread via person to person contact, eating contaminated food or beverage, or touching surfaces where the virus is present."
Norovirus is characterized by explosive bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. The symptoms usually only last a few days, but patients are infectious for much longer and may infect others unwittingly. "The virus may be present in a patient's stool before you start experiencing symptoms," says Pavia. "It also can be present for as long as two weeks after the symptoms are over. A person with norovirus diarrhea sheds billions and billions of virus particles in their stool. Getting as few as 100 in your mouth is enough to make you sick."
The fact the virus can be passed so easily, and remain active for such a long time, has the health department overseeing the RNC putting several precautions in place. They have quarantined those with symptoms at their hotels for at least 24 hours after they have stopped showing symptoms. They have also added hand sanitizer stations to kill germs that may be on hands. There is some concern, though, about a large waterpark at the hotel where those affected are staying. "A waterpark is a perfect environment for the spread of norovirus," says Pavia. "The virus could live in the water for some time once it is introduced."
There are several ways to prevent the transmission of norovirus, starting with keeping your hands clean. "Wash thoroughly with soap and water several times a day, and definitely after using the bathroom, or for caring for someone who is ill," says Pavia. "Also, wash your hands before you eat."
If you are unable to wash hands with soap, alcohol hand sanitizers can be used, but a thorough washing with soap is preferred for norovirus, which can resist some disinfectants. Other precautions to take include rinsing fruit and vegetables before eating, properly cooking foods to temperatures that kill germs, and wiping down any possibly contaminated surfaces with bleach based cleaner.
According to the Centers for Disease Control norovirus infects between 19 million and 21 million people a year. The majority of those do not require hospitalization, though there are roughly 570 and 800 norovirus-related deaths each year in the United States. Young children and the elderly are most at risk. "Hopefully, they will be able to contain this outbreak rather quickly," says Pavia. "The late-night comedians will have enough material from the convention without this."