As if the flu season wasn’t hitting hard enough, now health experts say a new strain of norovirus (also known as stomach flu) is hitting the U.S. after making its way here from Australia and Europe.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says cases are showing up in nursing homes, schools and day care centers.
Dr. Wayne Guerra of iTriage of Denver says the symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. “If you’re generally healthy it’s more of a nuisance. You’ll have symptoms, it’ll keep you out of work for a couple of days, but for the very young and old people with chronic diseases it can be very serious.”
The biggest warning about the virus is that it is extremely contagious. It is one of the few that can actually be picked up on toilet seats and other surfaces.
Eating raw fish in restaurants in areas with a high number of reported cases isn’t advised because the virus can live on food touched by sick restaurant workers for an extended time.
Doctors say it’s important to sanitize bathrooms, kitchens and towels with bleach. The virus is most prevalent in vomit and excrement.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the norovirus causes 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths each year, mostly in young children and the elderly.
While the norovirus is called the stomach flu, it is unrelated to influenza.
There is no vaccine or prescription medication to treat it.
Doctors say anyone with the virus should get plenty of rest, stay hydrated and try to eat something light, like soup, to provide nutrients that strengthen the immune system.
Most people get over the virus in a few days, but if the illness continues beyond that, it’s best to contact your doctor.
Here are some tips on how to avoid contamination:
— Always wash your hands carefully with soap and water after using the toilet and changing diapers, and before eating, preparing, or handling food.
— Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing. But, they should not be used as a substitute for washing with soap and water.
— Wash fruits and vegetables and cook seafood thoroughly
Be aware that noroviruses are relatively resistant. They can survive temperatures as high as 140° and quick steaming processes that are often used for cooking shellfish. Food that might be contaminated with norovirus should be thrown out.
— Keep sick infants and children out of areas where food is being handled and prepared.
— When you are sick, do not prepare food or care for others
— Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces
— Wash laundry thoroughly
Wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled items and wash your hands after, and wash the items with detergent.