BRIDGET KALLENBERGER Public health nurse Hill County Health Department
This past summer our community, like others in the state, felt the effects of a virus that causes “stomach flu” symptoms. This virus is known as norovirus. Once again this is lurking in our community. This “stomach flu” is not related to the flu, or influenza, which is a respiratory illness caused by influenza virus. Norovirus is found in the stool or vomit of infected people and is very contagious and people can become infected with the virus in several ways, including: eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus; touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus, and then placing their hand in their mouth; having direct contact with another person who is infected and showing symptoms (for example, when caring for someone with illness, or sharing foods or eating utensils with someone who is ill) . Symptoms of norovirus usually include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and some stomach cramping. Sometimes people additionally have a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a general sense of tiredness. People have no long-term health effects related to this illness. The illness often begins suddenly, and the infected person may feel very sick. Sometimes people are unable to drink enough liquids to replace the liquids they lose because of vomiting and diarrhea. These persons can become dehydrated and may need special medical attention. Infected individuals are contagious from the minute they begin feeling ill to at least three days after recovery. Some people are contagious for a long as two weeks. Therefore, it is important to use good hand washing and other hygienic practices. Currently, there is no antiviral medication that works against norovirus and there is no vaccine to prevent infection. Norovirus infection cannot be treated with antibiotics, because antibiotics work to fight bacteria and not viruses. You can decrease your chance of becoming infected with norovirus by following these preventive steps: Frequently wash your hands, especially after toilet visits and changing diapers and before eating or preparing food. Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and steam oysters before eating them. Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner. Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with virus after an episode of illness (use hot water and soap). Flush or discard any vomit and/or stool in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is kept clean. Your health provider or the Hill County Health Department can assist you in answering any questions you might have in regards to norovirus. The Hill County Health Department can be contacted at 265- 5481, ext. 266.