hands Washing with soap

A new study explores the role hand washing can play in stopping a norovirus outbreak, according to an article on the Goats and Soda website.

Researcher Sherry Towers said she became curious about norovirus after contracting a case herself. The microscopic parasite can be transmitted via aerosolization of the virus through vomit or feces, through person-to-person contact, by touching a contaminated surface and then touching the mouth, or by contaminated food or water. Towers believes she contracted Norovirus by using a public bathroom in which someone had been sick.

Towers, a professor at the Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center at Arizona State University, decided to construct a mathematical model, using data from an Norovirus outbreak in the early 2000s aboard a cruise ship.

She "tweaked the parameters" to see what might have been the most effective way to intervene: quarantining patients, cleaning up the "environment" or hand-washing, the article said.

The study discovered that quarantining was not effective. People who contract Norovirus have mild symptoms may not bother to report them. Even people without symptoms spread the disease because Norovirus is still found in stool for up to two weeks after symptoms disappear.

The strategy of wiping down surfaces with a chlorine-bleach solution does have an impact. But in Towers’ model, it only reduced the outbreak size by 10 percent.

Washing hands was much more effective. The study found that if 80 percent of the cruise ship passengers who did not wash their hands were to change their hygiene habits, the outbreak would be halted.

Hand-washing experts recommend washing hands for 20 seconds. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. One survey found that only 5 percent of subjects washed their hands for 15 seconds or more.

To help encourage proper hand washing, cleaning staff can post signs in the restroom. New soap dispensers on the market include countdown timers, which help to remind users to wash for the appropriate amount of time.

Read more about the study here.