Norovirus – The Gift That Keeps on Giving … until it’s stopped!

Norovirus – The Gift That Keeps on Giving … until it’s stopped!

-Dannette Young Heeth, CEH, IP, NR-Paramedic

During the first week of April 2016, one of my employees that works at a large manufacturing facility served by my company called off sick.  After the second day he called off, I was concerned. This young, healthy man had never missed a days’ work.  I called and asked what his symptoms were, and he said, “I’ve never felt this bad!  I keep throwing up, I can’t even hold water down, have diarrhea and my stomach actually hurts.” My first thought was he might have appendicitis, but after 48 hours, he felt better and went back to work.

Within 4 hours of his return to work, another employee called off with the same symptoms. And then other. In a 24 hour period, 6 employees called off with the exact symptoms! Being an Infection Preventionist, I went to the building to see what the common factor was with each employee.  How are they passing this around so quickly?

As I turned into my customer’s parking lot, there were about 1/3 of the number of cars that would typically be there at that time of day, and upon entering the building, I knew why.  The customer’s employees, over 2000 total, were dropping like flies with the same illness.  What could be the common link between my employees and the customer’s?

Using an ATP bio-luminescence meter, I tested the typical high hand contact surfaces such as door push plates, restroom surfaces, break-room tables, and common area telephone receivers. Since employees are trained on infection control processes which are reinforced on a routine basis, every surface I tested was a 50log which is considered “hospital clean.” Now I was really stumped!

Dirty-Keyboard-NorovirusWhile racking my brain for the source of this infection, a probable norovirus (stomach bug), I began watching the flow of the customer’s employees as they took their lunch break. Most directly went to the restroom and either went into a training room where they can check their personal emails or into a large breakroom with computerized food service vending. Ah! I immediately saw some high contact surfaces that I didn’t tell our employees to disinfect, and sure enough, a high bioload of between 950-1625log was on 4 computer keyboards/mouse, on the water faucet handles in the largest restroom set, and on the water fountain push plate.  Problem identified!

norovirus-2-1A norovirus, while rarely deadly, is extremely contagious and can survive up to a week on surfaces, and can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, GA, 61% of outbreaks are passed by shaking hands or touching infected surfaces.

Most norovirus is fecal-borne and is passed by folks that didn’t wash their hands after using the restroom. If they are infected, each surface they touch can be a source of communal infection.  The incubation period is typically 24-48 hours, and with supportive care such as staying well-hydrated, the symptoms are gone by 72 hours. While the illness is short-lived, it can spread like wildfire in any setting where a lot of people are confined together, such as a university, jail, cruise ship, and of course, a manufacturing plant.[i]

While the CDC recommends a vigorous surface disinfection with bleach, this is not a chemical used commercially to clean surfaces and not one our company uses.   In order to disinfect the surfaces I identified with a high bioload, our employees used our standard disinfectant which has hydrogen peroxide sprayed on a microfiber towel, and were instructed to clean those surfaces twice a shift (6 times per day) on a routine basis, always cleaning those surfaces using gloves.  Two weeks later, I retested the surfaces, and all high hand contact surfaces were under 20log and considered “surgical suite” clean.

Even though I am careful to wash hands frequently and know a lot about infection control, it hit me 24 hours after my visit to the manufacturing plant and put me down for 48 hours.  It was a wildfire that burned me, too!


  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 30 seconds.
  • Always wash hands after restroom use and before meals.
  • If infected, stay hydrated with water or electrolyte drinks, and isolate yourself from others to prevent spreading the infection.
  • Thoroughly clean high hand contact surfaces in your home, and if you have two bathrooms, keep one as an “isolated toilet”.
  • The virus has to work its way out of the system either through vomitus or feces. Seek medical care if vomiting over 24 hours.

Dannette Heeth is the Southwest Region Business Development Manager for Varsity Facility Services. She is an infection Preventionist through the Association of Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, and is a Texas paramedic.



Click here to read “CLEANING & HYGIENE: THE FOUNDATION OF INFECTION CONTROL” by Bill Balek, Director of Environmental Services for ISSA.

Click here for an informative article from WebMD about some surprising places germs live.

Dannette Heath CEH, IP, Paramedic, EVS Business Development

Dannette Young Heeth, CEH, IP, Paramedic
Varsity Facility Services/Southwest Division
Regional Business Development

During the late 1970’s, Dannette was working in an Arlington, Texas hospital where the Environmental Services Department was outsourced to a janitorial vendor. She became interested in the training and processes required to keep the hospital properly cleaned. On her breaks, she would hang out in the EVS manager’s office to learn everything she could. Several years later, Dannette started a janitorial service, and with her medical background, began seeing ALL buildings as infectious as hospitals. Later in life she married a Flight/Critical Care Paramedic that inspired her to fulfill her dream of being a paramedic as well. She completed EMT-Basic training in 2008, joined MedicOne ambulance company (formerly MedCare), completed paramedic school and licensure in 2010, began the paramedic/RN bridge program, and eventually wound up as a trauma paramedic in a busy ER on the weekends.

In addition to her weekend work as a paramedic, she is involved in business development during the week with the best janitorial service in the world….Varsity Facility Services. Her life is full and busy!

Since starting with Varsity Facility Services in January 2013, doing Regional Business Development for Texas and Arizona, Dannette has already had great success. With her medical background, she was instrumental in obtaining the DaVita Dialysis business (63 locations in Houston); and Mountain Park Health Centers (4 locations) in Arizona.She also played a key role in bringing Varsity’s industry-leading services to Prosperity Bank (Houston); and most recently, State Farm regional offices in Phoenix. She concentrates on locating Fortune 500 companies, medical facilities, universities and national companies that have multiple locations throughout the country who need the level of service that only Varsity is able to provide. She believes in meeting prospective customers face-to-face, and spends at least 60% of her week “in the field” meeting new people and spreading the good news about Varsity to companies that have never heard of us. Her motto is, “The harder I work, the luckier I get!”

Medical Experience
In addition to working with Varsity, Dannette is currently working in the medical field as a trauma paramedic on the weekends at Dallas Regional Medical Center Emergency Department.She has also been an American Red Cross (Dallas Chapter) volunteer since 2007 and is on two of their teams: their Medical Disaster Team and their Disaster Action Team for fires/floods for which she is the Team Leader.She worked as a MedicOne Medical Response paramedic for 4 years.She has also taught infection control to nurses at the Texas Hospital Association; hasbeen a speaker at TORCH (Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals); and served on the Public Health Board, City of Grand Prairie from 2010-2012.

Facility Experience
As well as her impressive medical experience, Dannette has extensive experience in Facility Management and Janitorial.Before joining Varsity Facility Services, Dannette owned numerous janitorial companies. She has also served as Executive Vice President at AHI Facility Services; and as Director of Medical Treatment Facilities at Aztec Facility Services. She served on the BSCAI Board of Directors from 1955-1998; served on the Proctor & Gamble Advisory Board of Directors from 1995-1998; and was a speaker for Sales & Marketing at the 2002 & 2003 ISSA Conventions.

• University of Texas at Arlington
• Southern Methodist University
• National College of Technical Instruction (Paramedic)
• DCCCD nursing (Phi Theta Kappa)

Other experience and certifications:
• Texas State Paramedic, National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians – Paramedic (NREMT-P)
• Infection Preventionist (IP)
• IICRC carpet cleaning
• FEMA disaster paramedic certified
• Wildlands Firefighter
• Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS)
• CPR instructor
• Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC)
• International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Services, 16 Springs Fire Department (New Mexico).
• Disaster Action Team Leader – American Red Cross
• Certified Executive Housekeeper (CEH)

Awards / Honors:
• Won Dallas 100, Inc. 1994 for being one of the fastest growing companies in Dallas.
• 1995 Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce Enterprise of the Year winner

Literary Accomplishments:
• Published over 50 articles with SERVICES magazine and CONTRACTING PROFITS
• Former Columnist for Grand Prairie Chamber of Commerce, “Who’s Who in Grand Prairie”.

Dannette’s hobbies include playing the classical piano since the age of 3, playing pipe organ, writing hymns and she is currently working on 2 books: From Acne to Estrogen, and Crazy Stories from the ER.

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