“Maria threw up on the stairs today after lunch,” my 9-year-old told me when he came from school this afternoon, scrunching up his nose. “Ew!”
These are the words no parent wants to hear. My son just thinks it’s gross and kind of funny, but when I hear that someone has thrown up in my kid’s class, I know he’s probably next. I started to scour my calendar to make sure I have nothing important coming up. I checked under the sink to make sure I have a clean bucket, and I checked the linen closet to be sure I have a full supply of towels.
The towels would be for my 3-year-old, who can’t get it together to puke in a bucket yet. You see, I’m thinking ahead. I know that if one kid gets sick, the other one will too. Shortly after that, it will be my husband and then me, because moms are always the last to get sick (Murphy’s Law of the Stomach Flu).
And here’s the thing: I hate vomit. Truly, I would take colds, hacking coughs, even the regular flu over the horrid norovirus.
Of course, it’s quite possible that I’m blowing it all out of proportion, and there is not an epidemic hitting my son’s school. But I have learned over the years that when a kid or two is struck with the vomiting bug, it usually spreads like wildfire through a classroom, a town, just freaking everywhere.
I’m no medical expert, but like many moms, I have become a self-proclaimed know-it-all about everything kid/germ-related—mostly out of sheer necessity. And the more I learn about the stomach flu, the more skeeved out I become. It’s like these little germs are out to torment us even before they enter our bodies.
Here are five gross facts I never wanted to know about Norovirus:
1. You Get It by Actually Ingesting Vomit or Feces
You read that right. You actually have to ingest the puke or poop of someone who is sick (or has recently been sick). Of course, no one willingly eats this stuff, but a microscopic droplet is all you need. And you know how obediently and thoroughly kids wash their hands, right? Hmm… Not only is it gross to think that this is how the virus is transmitted, but it only points to the fact that you are probably eating microscopic amounts of someone’s excrement every single day.
2. It Lives on Surfaces for Up to Two Weeks
Those norovirus assholes really want to get you sick. It’s their life’s work. They stick around for days (and apparently, weeks) on doorknobs, countertops, and especially toilets and sinks, just so they can wreak their havoc continuously. I thought I had thoroughly cleaned once after one of my kids had gotten sick, but then my other got sick more than a week later. I’m thinking I missed a spot, and those nasty little buggers hung on long enough to get my other kid sick many days later.
3. You Need Fewer Than 100 Norovirus Particles to Get Sick, and One Vomit Session Contains BILLIONS of Them
Ew! This is another reason why it’s so easy to spread: One little errant drop of someone’s vomit or poop goes uncleaned, and it’s enough to get you sick.
4. Norovirus Can Survive Most Cleaners, Making It Almost Impossible to Get Rid Of
Think you can just Lysol the bathroom to bits? Think again. Most cleaners will not kill those stubborn bugs. Apparently, chlorine bleach is the only one that does the trick.
5. Norovirus Lives in Your Poop for Days After You’re Done Vomiting
I think it varies from person to person, but even after you’re done puking, you can still have norovirus in your poop. One of my worst parenting moments involved this fact. My toddler had been sick, but hadn’t thrown up in a few days, so I invited his little friend over. My son still had loose poops, but I didn’t think anything of it because it had been almost a week since he’d vomited. Within two days, his friend was sick as a dog. I felt terrible, and now I stay the hell away from people who have been sick for at least a week.
The silver lining to all of this (if there is one) is that most cases of the dreaded norovirus are awful, but brief. This is especially true as kids get older (vomiting babies and young toddlers can get dehydrated easily, which is really scary). So as revolting and just plain horrible it is to catch, it is usually just a day or two of apocalyptic misery, and then back to normal.
But that, my friends, is pretty much the best nicest thing I can say about the notorious norovirus.