Highly Contagious ‘Norovirus’ Spreading in U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that a highly contagious “stomach bug” called a “norovirus,” is now spreading in the U.S. and worldwide. This particular strain is said to have originated in Australia. Wide-spread norovirus infections can commonly occur on cruise ships and in schools.

A norovirus is a major cause of gastroenteritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach and small and large intestines. Norovirus symptoms are diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, abdominal cramps, and fever contracted primarily through infected fecal matter. Norovirus is not the influenza virus. Influenza usually does not cause symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea.

Norovirus is contracted through direct contact with an infected person, by sharing foods or utensils; through contaminated food and liquids, or by touching contaminated surfaces and then your face and mouth. People with norovirus illness are contagious from the moment they begin feeling sick until at least 3 days after they recover. But, some people may be contagious for even longer.

Follow this advice from the CDC to help prevent you and others from getting sick:

  • Wash Hands Often – Use soap and water and scrub hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers and before handling food or eating. Norovirus can stay in your system for up to 2 weeks, so continue to wash your hands more frequently than usual during this time. In addition to hand washing you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
  • Wash and Cook Food Thoroughly - Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating them. Noroviruses can survive temperatures up to 140°F and quick steaming processes often used for cooking shellfish. Cook shellfish thoroughly. Keep sick individuals out of food preparation areas. If you are sick, do not prepare food.
  • Clean and Disinfect Contaminated Surfaces – Wear gloves and after vomiting and episodes of diarrhea, clean surfaces immediately with a chlorine bleach solution (5–25 tablespoons of household bleach [5.25%] per gallon of water) or other disinfectant registered as effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Wash Laundry Thoroughly – Handle contaminated clothes and linens carefully and wash them immediately. Wear rubber or disposable gloves and wash your hands afterwards. Wash the items with detergent in hot water at the maximum available cycle length then machine dry them.

It is important to drink plenty of fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhea to avoid dehydration. Antibiotics are not effective in treating norovirus. Time, rest and avoiding contact with others is important. See a doctor or go to an urgent care walk-in clinic if you or someone you are caring for seems dehydrated. For additional information go to www.cdc.gov

What’s a “Stomach Bug” or “Stomach Flu?”

Many have their own special terms for stomach and intestinal related illness such as, “My daughter had the ‘stomach bug’ last week and now it is going through the whole house.” Or, “I had vomiting and diarrhea all night. What misery! I think I had the ‘stomach flu.’”

The “stomach bug” or “stomach flu” is actually gastroenteritis, which is not the same as the influenza virus. Influenza or “flu” usually does not cause symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea. So, what is gastroenteritis and what causes this distress?

Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and small and large intestines. Symptoms are diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, abdominal cramps, and often a fever. Gastroenteritis is caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites.

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