Staying Healthy by Knowing Your Viruses

As the global community struggles with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, expert advice on battling the virus is becoming more and more deeply entrenched in our collective psyche. This includes guidance based on ongoing scientific research. For example, we now know that the culprit virus, SARS-CoV-2, is chiefly transmitted through the air, highlighting the importance of indoor ventilation. The likelihood of spreading COVID-19 from contact with contaminated surfaces has been downplayed, reducing the emphasis on disinfecting surfaces. Significantly, vaccination, social distancing, handwashing, hand sanitiser, and mask use continue to play an important role in our fight against the virus. But with societal contact expanding, it is important to remember that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is not the only viral enemy in our midst.

Consider the highly contagious norovirus, the “winter vomiting bug,” for which no vaccine currently exists. Like COVID-19, norovirus is spread through close contact with infected individuals. Unlike COVID-19, contact with contaminated surfaces is a significant route of transmission of norovirus. Disinfectants such as dilute chlorine bleach solutions are highly effective in destroying norovirus on surfaces. Further, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that alcohol-based hand sanitiser is not an effective substitute for handwashing to help prevent norovirus. And although mask use can be effective in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19, wearing a mask is less useful in the fight against gastrointestinal infections such as norovirus.

In short, neither norovirus nor many of the other pathogens to which we are exposed necessarily “play by the rules” of SARS-CoV-2. It pays to conduct a brief “background check” on common viruses, especially those involved in ongoing outbreaks, to identify the best ways to limit your exposure and protect your loved ones. Widely promoted strategies for avoiding COVID-19 have undoubtedly prevented a great deal of that disease around the world. That said, as we resume normal activities, let’s recognise that each virus we confront may present unique challenges.

The World Chlorine Council has collected informative posters on how to disinfect to prevent norovirus infections as well as how to clean up in case of ‘accidents’ (metric units) using diluted chlorine bleach. These norovirus prevention and clean-up posters are also available in imperial units.

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