Norovirus 'Stomach Flu' Appears in Southwest Georgia

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Southwest Georgia Public Health Release

ALBANY— Peak season for flu is yet to arrive, but another nasty bug is also making its presence felt in Southwest Georgia – and there is no vaccine to prevent it and no drug to treat it.

“Norovirus causes about 20 million gastroenteritis cases each year in the United States,” said Southwest Health District Epidemiologist Jacqueline Jenkins. “This is the time of the year we often see it. For instance, you may have heard news reports about how around 400 people were sickened on two Caribbean cruises over the Christmas holidays.”

Jenkins said cases are cropping up in Southwest Health District as well.

“Norovirus illness is sometimes called `food poisoning’ or `stomach flu.’ It is true that noroviruses can cause food poisoning,” Jenkins said. “But other germs and chemicals can also cause food poisoning.”

Norovirus illness is not related to seasonal influenza, which is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus.

“There is no vaccine to prevent norovirus infection,” Jenkins cautioned. “Also, there is no drug to treat people who get sick from the virus. Antibiotics will not help if you have norovirus illness. This is because antibiotics fight against bacteria, not viruses.” The best way to reduce your chance of getting norovirus is by following some simple tips:

 Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers. If soap and water aren’t available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

 Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.

 People with norovirus illness should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for 3 days after they recover from their illness.

 After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces by using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label. If no such cleaning product is available, you can use a solution made with 5 tablespoons to 1.5 cups of household bleach per 1 gallon of water.

 Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. Handle soiled items carefully—disturbing them as little as possible—to avoid spreading the virus. If available, wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash your hands after handling. The items should be washed with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dried.

Jenkins said norovirus illness is usually not serious.
“Most people get better in 1 to 2 days,” she said. “But norovirus illness can be serious in young children, the elderly, and people with other health conditions; it can lead to severe dehydration, hospitalization and even death.”
Symptoms of norovirus infection usually include diarrhea, throwing up, nausea and stomach cramping. Less commons symptoms may include low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and general sense of fatigue.

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