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Norovirus hits Mammoth hard

February 13, 2014

By now, most Mammoth Lakes residents probably know someone who has recently been through the latest winter affliction to hit the area, the “norovirus,” sometimes called the winter vomiting disease and/or food poisoning.

It is not dangerous, most of the time, but it is a particularly nasty stomach virus most common in the winter when people are stuck together in small, enclosed spaces for long periods of time.

It is miserable, it is contagious, there is no cure nor vaccine, and unless you are living in an almost inhumanly clean environment, it is all too easy to get, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in every 15 Americans will get norovirus illness each year.

Symptoms begin with an upset stomach and move rapidly to cramping, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea that can be intense and last for as long as 36 hours, according to the CDC.

It is sometimes, although not always, accompanied by a low-grade fever, fatigue, muscle aches and other similar symptoms.

Some people mistake it for the flu, but according to Dr. Rick Johnson, the public health official for Mono and Inyo counties, there is no relationship between the flu and the norovirus.

“The flu is primarily a respiratory disease, not a gastrointestinal disease, like the norovirus,” he said.

Another common name is “food poisoning,” but the CDC says that is not exactly right, either.

“You may hear norovirus illness called ‘food poisoning’ or ‘stomach flu,’” the CDC writes on its website. “It is true that food poisoning can be caused by noroviruses. But, other germs and chemicals can also cause food poisoning.”

“Norovirus is all about people in congregate settings,” Johnson said. “That’s why you hear about it on cruise ships, in nursing homes, and in prisons. But why doesn’t the Navy have severe outbreaks on ships at sea on deployment with thousands of sailors living in close quarters for months at a time? They are scrupulous about cleaning, and quickly isolating anyone who is sick. Besides, no one gets on or off the ship, so people are not bringing new bugs into this closed environment all the time like what happens here.

“Like any other disease, one of us has to go somewhere and bring it back, or visitors bring it here. There is nothing particular to our environment that makes it more or less of a risk here.

“So, wash your hands frequently, and stay out of circulation if you are sick!”

 

Norovirus Facts

  • Anyone can be infected with noroviruses and get sick.
  • You can get norovirus illness more than once during your life.
  • Norovirus illness is usually not serious, and most people get better in 1 to 3 days. 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.
  • Norovirus can spread quickly from person to person in crowded, closed places like nursing homes, daycare centers, schools, hotels, and cruise ships. Noroviruses can also be a major cause of outbreaks in restaurants and catered-meal settings if contaminated food is served.

How do I get it?

  • The viruses are found in the vomit and stool of infected people.
  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus
  • 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
  • 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.
  • There is no vaccine to prevent norovirus infection. Also, there is no drug to treat people who get sick from the virus.
  •  Antibiotics will not help if you have norovirus illness.

How do I avoid it?

  • Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. These alcohol-based products can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but they are not a substitute for washing with soap and water.
  • Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
  • Do not prepare food while infected. People with norovirus illness should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for three days after they recover from their illness.
  • For more information go to: www.cdc.gov/features/norovirus

Source: Center for Disease Control

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