If you’re lucky enough to the go to the Olympic Games, you want to actually be able to enjoy it. What you don’t want is to be tied to the bathroom, pooping and puking your guts out. Unfortunately, a fair amount of security guards at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang have gotten sick with norovirus, a nasty stomach bug.
An outbreak of norovirus, a highly contagious gastrointestinal illness, affected at least 41 Olympic security guards who were taken to the hospital after suffering from vomiting and diarrhea on Sunday, CNN reports. To keep the disease from spreading, 1,200 security guards were pulled from their jobs and replaced with 900 members of the South Korean military who will conduct security checks and searches until the sick guards are better.
The guards who got sick were all staying in the same building together, according to CNN, and buses and accommodations are being disinfected to try to prevent the spread of the disease. Still, it has spread a bit: The total number of people at the Olympics who are known to be sick with norovirus is up to 86, according to USA Today.
Norovirus is also known as the “cruise ship virus,” and it tends to pop up in places where a lot of people are sharing small spaces because it’s super contagious.
Anyone can get norovirus and it’s really easy to contract it once it’s going around, infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the John’s Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells SELF. You can get it from direct contact with an infected person, ingesting contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And, disgustingly, norovirus can also spread via particles of vomit or poop from people who are infected with the virus. Those particles may make their way into the air or your hands and, eventually, your mouth, Susan Besser, M.D., a primary care physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, tells SELF. Only a small amount of viral particles are needed to transmit the virus (which Dr. Besser calls “very hearty”) so it doesn’t take much to get you sick.
Getting norovirus from food “works in the way you don’t want it to work,” Benjamin Chapman, Ph.D., an assistant professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University, tells SELF. Vomit or poop particles from an infected person can end up in food, possibly from being close to where the person got sick or because they didn’t wash their hands properly after they got sick, thus transferring it into your food and making you sick.
Most people just have to ride out norovirus and hope for the best. Luckily it’s usually short-lived and not too serious.
Once you’ve been exposed, it’s likely that you’ll develop symptoms within 12 to 48 hours, per the CDC. Then, the virus actually causes your stomach and intestines to become inflamed, leading to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain, the CDC says.
Most people get better within three days, Dr. Adalja says. Treatment usually involves hydration and general supportive care, like eating easy-to-digest foods and getting plenty of rest (e.g. watching Fixer Upper re-runs in bed while wearing your comfiest sweats). But if your symptoms are serious, your doctor may also recommend an over-the-counter diarrhea medication or a prescription anti-nausea medication (e.g. Zofran) to get them through it, Dr. Adalja says. And, if you get severely dehydrated, you may need IV fluids, Dr. Besser says.
If you’re in an area where norovirus is going around, you aren’t necessarily guaranteed to get it. But you can and should take some steps to lower the odds you’ll become infected.
The first thing to do is make sure your hand hygiene is on point: Wash your hands with soap and water well and often, especially before you eat or prepare food for other people, Dr. Adalja says. That way if you do come into contact with the virus, you reduce the chances of actually putting it in your mouth and getting sick that way.
Additionally, if you’re sharing a bathroom with someone you know has the virus, try to use another one (if you can) to avoid coming into contact with those floating vomit particles, Dr. Adalja advises. The CDC also recommends thoroughly washing all produce and trying to clean surfaces with bleach that may have been contaminated. And, of course, do what you can to avoid being around norovirus in the first place. “If you see someone vomiting,” Dr. Adalja says, “go the other way.”