The change of seasons can bring a chance of snow for some and a chance of viruses for even more. Sharing time, meals and close spaces from Thanksgiving weekend through New Year’s Day all too often means sharing bugs, which don’t discriminate.
Although they’re the last living creatures on any invitation list, when pathogens make surprise appearances it’s important to know how to handle cleanup, especially if norovirus is the culprit. The highly contagious virus usually has sudden onset of vomiting as a primary symptom, which helps the bug reach travel farther and faster than other pathogens.
Research that’s been underway for a couple of years at North Carolina State University is generating data that some may find less than appetizing, but it provides further evidence for the need for specific cleanup procedures in homes, schools, restaurants, etc.
Grace Tung-Thompson’s Vomit Machine demonstrates the aerosolization of the virus that occurs when an infected person vomits. Others can ingest the virus by breathing air that has been contaminated by the process. The aerosolized virus can also land on hard surfaces, where it can live for long periods of time.
“I’ve talked to lots of environmental health specialists, retailers and foodservice food safety folks about what Grace and fellow graduate student Dominic Libera put together and many respond with a weird level of enthusiasm for the barf project,” Ben Chapman, an associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University, wrote recently in barfblog.com.
Chapman added that the main question those folks struggle with is how far the virus particles travel in a vomiting event, writing “knowing this, and then cleaning and sanitizing helps limit the scope of a potential outbreak.”
So what’s the app for that?
Professor Lee-Ann Jaykus, who heads norovirus research with NoroCORE at NC State is known as The Norovirus Woman. She has said “there is no known technology that will eliminate norovirus if it’s in the air.” Jaykus believes such technology is “really, really important” but wonders “how the heck we’re going to develop it? I’m at a loss for words.”
“And norovirus can hang around for weeks, so anyone that touches (contaminated surfaces) and then puts their hand to their mouth could be at risk for infection,” Jaykus wrote in a 2015 report. Since then, cleanup recommendations have changed as the scientists’ understanding of vomiting has broadened.
So, how large of a diameter from the barf spot should be deep cleaned? In 2016 the thought was a 25-foot diameter was enough, but Lee-Ann Jaykus has been quoted this year saying 100 feet is needed.
“The best you can do is get yourself far away from a vomiting incident,” Jaykus says. “If you were in the middle of a meal at a restaurant and someone at the next table threw up, you’d probably be wise to stop eating, and to wash yourself and your clothes when you are able.”
With this, Jaykus stresses the importance of doing a “really, really good job of the cleanup.”
Commercial vomit and fecal matter cleanup kits are being used by more and more foodservice operators and schools. These kits provide the material required to clean up the mess, as well as personal protection equipment including disposable coveralls and respirator masks for the person doing the cleaning.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using a chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of 5 to 25 tablespoons of household bleach per gallon of water to clean surfaces.
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