Norovirus. You and I might know it by its more common name, the stomach flu. It's certainly been a hot topic in parts of South Louisiana this week. Keeping it from becoming a hot topic across the entire state is now the mission of the Louisiana Department of Health.

The origin of this most recent outbreak of the highly contagious gastrointestinal illness is thought to have happened at a Mardi Gras Ball at a Lake Charles Casino. Several guests who attended that ball reported symptoms similar to those expected in cases of norovirus.

Department of Health officials say cases of the virus have been reported in Calcasieu and Vernon Parishes and there is the potential for the virus to continue to spread if certain precautions aren't taken. In fact, these are the most common ways the virus is shared from one individual to another.

  • Having direct contact with an ill person, such as by caring for them or sharing food or utensils with them
  • Touching contaminated surfaces and then putting your hands in your mouth
  • Consuming contaminated food or water

Should you begin to notice symptoms of the malady and aren't sure what to do. Here are some tips you might consider. Of course, we always recommend that you consult your primary care physician or visit a walk-in clinic. Use this information for reference purposes only.

  • Stay home from school or work for 24 hours after vomiting and diarrhea have stopped.
  • If you are a food handler, stay home from work for 48 hours after symptoms have stopped.
  • Healthcare providers and those who work with children should also stay home for 48 hours after symptoms have stopped.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently with soap and warm water, especially after using the toilet or changing diapers, before eating, preparing or handling food and before giving yourself or someone else medicine. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to, but not in lieu of, washing your hands with soap and water.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces and soiled surfaces with bleach-based household cleaners.
  • Wash clothing thoroughly in hot water if it is soiled with diarrhea or vomit:
    • Handle soiled items carefully without agitating them
    • Wear rubber or disposable gloves when handling soiled items and wash hands after
    • Wash the items with detergent and hot water at the maximum available cycle length then machine dry at the highest heat setting

For most people the effects of this virus are minimal and they usually dissipate after a day or so. Others with compromised immune systems or a weakened state of health might encounter some serious complications if exposed to the virus. So, don't just think it's a 48-hour bug and move on.