A total number of 128 Winter Olympic officials in PyeongChang, South Korea had confirmed cases of norovirus as of Thursday night.
Just a day before the opening ceremony of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, a norovirus outbreak — at least among the staff members at the Games so far — is threatening to disrupt the sporting event. The virus is a highly contagious stomach illness that induces severe vomiting, nausea and diarrhea, which typically leads to dehydration.
“Symptoms can last anywhere from one to three days,” Dr. Sarah Hochman, associate hospital epidemiologist at NYU Langone Health told the Daily News. “It’s not fun to be ill from it, and people can still feel weak for days after symptoms subside. The big issue is becoming dehydrated since you’re not able to take in enough fluids, which is dangerous for everyone, including an Olympian expected to perform at the top physical level.”
There have been reports this week that the Games’ are responding by providing a plethora of hand sanitizers available for everyone at all the Olympic venues and arenas, but norovirus is impervious to the usual effects of the cleaner.
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“Purell is not effective,” Hochman told The News. “Wash your hands frequently with soap and water — it’s the most effective way to stay healthy, and bleach-based cleaners are most effective for surfaces. Also make sure your food is cooked through and hot, which is important for any foodborne infection.
Norovirus is shed from stool, Hochman said. It’s a fecal-oral disease, meaning a person becomes sick after bacteria found in the stool are swallowed. Few of the virus’ hearty particles are needed to cause an infection as it spreads very easily — often because someone, somewhere, didn’t wash his or her hands. And the athletes and staff at the Olympics are currently living in the perfect environment for the virus to flourish.
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“At the Olympics, everyone is basically dorming together, sharing the same bathroom and common dining areas,” Hochman said. “If they’re near anyone vomiting, they should wash their hands and try to stay away.”
But if an Olympian does contract the virus, he or she shouldn’t automatically assume that gold medal dreams will be flushed down the toilet along with any illness-related vomit.
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“It they’re feeling up to it, they should go ahead and compete,” Hochman said. “They may still feel weak from the dehydration but they should be okay. It won’t lead to further complications.”
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