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Entries in Norovirus (1)

Sunday
Jan272013

In the News: Norovirus (Stomach Bug) Runs Rampant 

You may have seen the news reports in the last few days, that a new strand of Norovirus is spreading rapidly here in the US.

The new virus strand, "GII.4 Sydney" was identified in Australia last March.  More than half of 266 norovirus outbreaks reported during the last four months of 2012 were caused by the Australian strain, according to data released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

And although it is often referred to as the "stomach flu" - Norovirus has no connection to the influenza virus. 

What symptoms does Norovirus cause?

The illness often begins suddenly. You may feel very sick, with body aches, stomach cramping, vomiting and/or diarrhea.

Symptoms typically appear within 12-48 hours after exposure to the virus and people remain contagious for approximately 3 days after their symptoms resolve.

How common is Norovirus?

The CDC estimates that each year more than 20 million cases of acute gastroenteritis are caused by noroviruses (so about 1 in every 15 Americans will get norovirus illness this year).

How does Norovirus spread?

Norovirus is tough to beat for two main reasons

1. It spreads rapidly and takes a very tiny amount of exposure to make someone sick.  One British scientist referred to it as the "Ferrari of the virus field" for its spreading speed. Fewer than 20 virus particle are enough to infect someone. 

2. Someone who is sick is contagious before they have symptoms:   Someone infected with Norovirus is shedding billions of viral particles (and start shedding virus without any symptoms, so they don’t know they have it and there’s no way to advise them about how to avoid spreading it).

Its rapid spread can be especially devastating in crowded, closed places such as daycare centers, schools, hotels, and cruise ships.

The viruses are found in the vomit and stool of infected people and are typically spread by the following ways:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus (someone gets stool or vomit on their hands, then touches food or drink).
  • Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth.
  • Having direct contact with a person who is infected with norovirus (for example, when caring for someone with norovirus or sharing foods or eating utensils with them).

How serious is Norovirus?

For most otherwise healthy people, Norovirus is usually not serious, just very uncomfortable.  Most people get better within 1­ to 2 days.

But, norovirus illness can be very serious in young children, the elderly, and people with other health conditions (like Diabetes). 

Norovirus is estimated to cause over 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths each year in the United States.  Deaths are typically due to the main complication from Norovirus - dehydration.

Symptoms of dehydration to watch for in children:

- Decrease in frequency of urniation (fewer than 6 wet diapers in 24 hours in a young infant under 6-9 months and urinating fewer than 3-4 times in 24 hours in older children).

- Dry mouth and throat

- Feeling dizzy when standing up

- No tears when crying

What treatment is available for Norovirus?

There is no particular treatment for Norovirus.   

And, unfortunately, you can get norovirus illness more than once during your life.

Antibiotics will not help if you have norovirus illness. This is because antibiotics fight against bacteria, not viruses.

While infected, the most important thing is to ensure you (or your child) remains well hydrated.  Usually sipping small amounts of fluids frequently is the best approach (water or Pedialyte are best as juice and sugary drinks can worsen dehydration). 

Do not give an anti-diarrhea medication (such as Immodium) to your child. Anti-diarrhea medications usually allow the virus to increase reproduction and make the illness worse.

How to protect yourself from Norovirus?

1. Practice Hand Hygiene: Wash your hands carefully with soap and water (especially after using the restroom or changing diapers) and always before prepping food or eating.  Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is better than nothing, but is not equivalent to washing with soap and water if possible.  And if you've been an unlikely victim of the Norovirus, do not prepare food for others while you have symptoms and for 3 days afterwards.

2. Be careful in the kitchen:  Carefully wash fruits and vegetables and cook shellfish thoroughly before eating.

3. Clean contaminated surfaces: If someone in your home falls victim to the Norovirus (or any stomach bug), immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces using a beach-based household cleaner (as directed on the product label).  You can make your own cleaning solution by mixing 5 tablespoons to 1.5 cups of household bleach per 1 gallon of water.

Of note: On hard surfaces in the environment, the Norovirus can survive for up to 12 hours. On contaminated carpet, noroviruses have been found to survive for up to 12 days.

4. Wash laundry!:  Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that have been contaminated with vomit or stool.  Items should be washed with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dried. If available, wear rubber or disposab le gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash your hands after reomving them.