Authors Tara MacCannell, PhD , Ben Lopman, PhD 
 Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
 Division of Viral Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Winter is prime time for norovirus outbreaks. Norovirus strikes swiftly, causing acute gastroenteritis and usually involves rapid-onset diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Sometimes it is accompanied by fever and dehydration. People get infected with norovirus by ingesting it through norovirus-contaminated hands, food, or droplets from vomit. The virus is incredibly infectious, and even if you’ve had the infection in the past, you can still get sick. Unfortunately, immunity is not long-lasting.
Norovirus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks in the U.S., and the majority of outbreaks are reported from healthcare settings, both long term care facilities and hospitals. Since norovirus can spread very quickly, many people can become infected within a matter of a few days. This is particularly concerning in healthcare settings, as staff, patients, and visitors are all at risk for infection.
In support of the recent CDC and HICPAC Guideline for the Prevention and Control of Norovirus Gastroenteritis Outbreaks in Healthcare Settings, 2011 to control the spread of norovirus in healthcare settings and CDC’s Updated Norovirus Outbreak Management and Disease Prevention Guidelines for the wider community, we are pleased to release a new toolkit designed to help healthcare providers manage and stop outbreaks. The norovirus toolkit includes infection control recommendations, as well as tools for outbreak response, coordination, and reporting.
One of the most important infection control activities all healthcare providers can do to prevent norovirus and protect patients is to keep hands clean, particularly prior to caring for patients and before eating. Healthcare providers should also ask themselves if they could recognize the signs of a norovirus outbreak in their facility. When a patient exhibits sudden-onset nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, they should suspect norovirus and place those patients under Contact Precautions until norovirus or a different infectious cause is ruled out. If healthcare personnel experience sudden-onset vomiting or diarrhea consistent with norovirus, particularly if others have already been ill in areas where they work, they should not return to work for a minimum of 48 hours after their symptoms resolve.
Facilities and providers should use these new tools now to be sure they are doing all they can to prevent and control norovirus outbreaks in their facilities.