Get Healthy Carson City: Good hand hygiene can prevent spread of illness

This column appears in the Nevada Appeal health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.

Lately, our neighbors in Washoe County have been battling an outbreak of norovirus. Norovirus, which is extremely contagious, can be spread by an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes inflammation in the stomach or intestines, which leads to stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Anyone can be infected with norovirus, but it’s especially serious for young children and older adults.

Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States. Each year, it causes 19-21 million illnesses. Norovirus is also the most common cause of food borne-disease outbreaks in the United States. The best way to help prevent norovirus is to practice proper hand washing and general cleanliness.

Dirty hands are the root of many different types of illness, including norovirus. Every day, we touch hundreds of different surfaces — doorknobs, keyboards, pets, shopping carts, and even other people. We then touch our noses, mouths and faces, transferring any bacteria or viruses we may have picked up from those surfaces. By frequently washing our hands, we can make sure we aren’t giving those germs a chance to make us sick.

Handwashing is important for food safety, disease prevention and personal health. Wash your hands before you eat and after you use the bathroom; before and after preparing food; after handling animals or animal waste; after playing sports; after changing diapers, and anytime your hands are dirty. If you’re sick, it’s especially important to wash your hands often to prevent spreading your illness to others.

The best way to wash your hands is to use soap and water. A good tip is to wash your hands vigorously for the time it takes you to sing the alphabet. Make sure to wash all surfaces, including the backs of your hands and between your fingers, rinse your hands thoroughly, and use a clean towel to dry your hands. If soap and water are not available, hand sanitizer is a good way to get rid of most germs.

Many people who become ill with norovirus mistakenly think they have the flu. In reality, symptoms of flu include fever, sore throat, cough, muscle aches, and tiredness. Most people who get sick with flu will not experience gastrointestinal symptoms. While norovirus and flu are separate illnesses, both can be prevented with good hand hygiene. There’s no vaccine to prevent norovirus, but a safe and effective vaccine does exist for flu, and is available at Carson City Health and Human Services during our Thursday vaccination clinics.

For information on vaccination clinics or other Health Department services, check out our website at or like us on Facebook at


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