The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department is urging residents and visitors to be proactive in protecting themselves from Norovirus, the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis (stomach flu) in the United States.

Norovirus, which causes an estimated 20 million cases every year, is highly infectious. Symptoms include acute vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea, although not everyone affected experiences all of those ailments.

Norovirus is most contagious from the start of symptoms until 48 hours after all symptoms have stopped. Once a person has recovered from the acute illness, the virus can still be shed through the feces for several weeks, causing ongoing spread.

It spreads easily from person to person and can be contracted by touching objects and surfaces that have become soiled and not been properly disinfected. Subsequently, food items can become contaminated and spread the virus.

Norovirus can also easily travel through the air when a person vomits.

The most common places for Norovirus outbreaks are venues where people gather and have meals, like daycare centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, schools, and cruise ships.

Norovirus infection can be prevented by washing hands with soap and water; cleaning contaminated surfaces and objects with a diluted bleach (Clorox) solution; and staying home when ill with vomiting and diarrhea.

Note that alcohol-based hand sanitizers and cleaners DO NOT decontaminate hands or objects from the virus. Norovirus is resistant to some disinfectants, and can remain on surfaces for days to weeks.

Tips to protect from Norovirus:

  • Washing your hands regularly can help to protect yourself and prevent the spread of the virus if you are sick.
  • Wash hands with soap and running water after using the toilet, changing diapers, and before eating or handling food. Hand sanitizers should not be used in place of washing with soap and water.
  • Stay home for at least 24 hours after symptoms stop.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly. 
  • When you are sick and for 2 to 3 days after you recover, do not prepare food or care for others.
  • Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness. Use chlorine bleach solution (1/3 cup of household bleach per gallon of water for non-porous surfaces).
  • Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with stool or vomitus (use hot water and soap).

Find additional information at:

CDC Norovirus Illness: Key Facts  English (PDF) |  Spanish (PDF) 

CDC Stop Norovirus! (PDF)

CDC How you Get Norovirus from People or Surfaces (PDF)

Cleaning and Disinfection for Norovirus