How To: Avoid the Stomach Flu


It’s the time of year to spread holiday cheer, but unfortunately, it’s also the time of year when highly contagious illnesses, such as norovirus (the stomach flu), are easily spread.

Did you know the best way to stay healthy this season is to wash your hands? That’s right, it’s that simple. The seemingly harmless activities of our daily lives, such as touching door handles, shaking hands or pressing elevator buttons, lead to your hands becoming a collection site for germs. Now, if you touch your eyes, your nose or your mouth, you’ve just exposed yourself to all of the germs you’ve been collecting.

Foam or gel hand sanitizers are not effective against viruses such as norovirus.

All of this makes hand-washing the single more important step you can take to prevent the spread of illness.

What are the symptoms of Norovirus?

The most common signs and symptoms of the stomach flu include:

  • vomiting
  • watery non-bloody diarrhea
  • nausea
  • abdominal cramps

People usually become sick within 12-48 hours from exposure to norovirus and symptoms usually last one to three days. It’s important to note that people can be contagious even before symptoms start and for two to three weeks after they recover.  

How is Norovirus Spread?

Norovirus can live on hard surfaces for up to two weeks. It is spread by direct contact (like shaking hands) with an infected person or touching a contaminated surface and then touching your mouth. The virus is found in stool and vomit of an infected person and is spread by swallowing particles.  

Washing your hands with soap and water is the only way to effectively remove the virus from your hands.

How to Effectively Wash Your Hands

Eighty-five percent of us don’t wash our hands correctly. This could be for a variety of reasons, including not washing long enough, not getting in between your fingers and not cleaning your palms or the tops of your hands.

The most important thing to remember is to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. One tip for ensuring you wash long enough is for you to sing “Happy Birthday” twice through while washing your hands.

It’s also important to get a nice lather of soap and make sure you wash between your fingers, both the tops and palms of your hands and your nail beds. And if you wear jewelry, you need to remove it or make sure you get lather and friction underneath.

Then rinse completely and dry.

How Frequently You Should Wash Your Hands

As most of us have been taught growing up, you need to wash your hands before you eat or prepare foods, after you touch raw produce and meat and after you use the restroom.

You should also wash your hands after sneezing or coughing, touching your eyes, nose and mouth or coming in contact with someone who is sick.

RELATED: Your Ultimate Cold and Flu Survival Kit

How You Can Help Prevent the Spread of Illness

  1. Perform proper hand-washing.
  2. Frequently clean high-touch surfaces such as door handles and computers, and shared areas in your home such as restrooms and the kitchen.
  3. Seek medical treatment when you are experiencing symptoms, but avoid activities like work and school when you are feeling sick.


  1. Apologies in advance, but Please don't call it "the stomach flu". The only thing it has in common with "flu", that is, in common with influenza, is that this pathogen (Norovirus) is a virus. It isn't even a closely related virus. It has different characteristics, which make the use of soap and water for hand sanitation so important with Norovirus. It would be better to call it "Cruise Ship Sickness", or, as the British call it: "Winter Vomiting Disease". But please don't call it "Stomach Flu" Until about 15 years ago, fever was not seen much with Norovirus, but high fevers have become much more prevalent. And as much as you might think you want to die when you have Norovirus, it is far less virulent than influenza. Norovirus doesn't kill nearly as many people as influenza.