A vomit-inducing stomach bug that outlives hand sanitizer has taken down 194 people at the Winter Olympics

  • South Korean officials have confirmed 194 cases of norovirus in Pyeongchang.
  • No athletes have gotten sick so far, but the virus is highly contagious and spreads quickly in close quarters.
  • Most people can recover from the illness in a couple of days, but the body can continue to shed viral particles for weeks after recovery.

Dozens of miserable people in Pyeongchang, South Korea are suffering through days of vomiting, diarrhoea, and fever. They’re sick with norovirus due to an outbreak that has spread through the site of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported on Monday that 194 cases of norovirus have been confirmed so far. Last week, the virus quickly spread among security guards, police officers and food handlers. Nearly 100 additional cases were reported in two days, and 1,200 Olympic workers had to be taken off the job. There have not been any reports of sick athletes yet, though.

Luckily, the virus’s spread appears to be slowing. Following last week’s dramatic uptick, the KCDC said 147 of the 194 sick patients “have been released from quarantine in full health and have returned to work.” An additional 66 confirmed illnesses have been reported since Thursday.

But the virus is extremely easy to pass around, even after you’ve fully recovered. According to the US Centres for Disease Control, “the virus can stay in your stool for two weeks or more after you feel better.”

What is norovirus?

Norovirus is the most common cause of diarrhoea in the world. Symptoms usually surface between 12 hours and two days after exposure, and include diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain, fever, nausea, and body aches.

The virus sheds from the faeces of infected people and animals, and just 10 viral particles can be enough to get you sick. Norovirus is hearty and sticks around on surfaces for quite a while, so you don’t have to come into contact with someone else’s skin to get the bug. You can get it from eating contaminated food, drinking contaminated water, or putting hands that contain norovirus particles in your mouth.

Norovirus thrives in both hot and cold temperatures, and it’s not easy to wipe away with disinfectant. Hand sanitizer, which is normally an easy substitute for hand-washing, is also no match for the virus. Experts recommend cleaning contaminated surfaces with a potent chlorine bleach solution of no less than 5-25 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water, and washing hands thoroughly and frequently with soap and warm water, especially before handling food or after going to the bathroom.

People are still contagious up to two days after they start feeling better, and during that time they shouldn’t prepare food for anyone else.

Most people can recover from a case of norovirus without seeing a doctor, but more than 500 people in the US die every year after coming down with the virus. Children and old people who get it are at risk of suffering severe dehydration or malnutrition, which can make the illness fatal.

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