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Published on - Dec. 28, 2006
Health department offers information about noroviruses
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PINELLAS COUNTY – Noroviruses are a group of viruses (previously known as Norwalk-like viruses) that can affect the stomach and intestines.

According to a press release from the Pinellas County Health Department, these viruses can cause people to have gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and the large intestines. Gastroenteritis is sometimes called a calicivirus infection or food poisoning, even though it may not always be related to food. Norovirus is sometimes called the “stomach flu,” although it is not related to the flu (a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus).

Symptoms caused by noroviruses

Common symptoms: Vomiting, diarrhea and some stomach cramping.

Less common symptoms: low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, nausea and tiredness.

The illness often begins suddenly. Symptoms of norovirus illness usually begin about 24 to 48 hours after ingestion of the virus, but they can appear as early as 12 hours after exposure. People may feel very sick and vomit many times a day, but most people get better within one or two days, and have no long-term health effects related to their illness. However, sometimes people are unable to drink enough liquids to replace the liquids they lost because of vomiting and diarrhea. These persons can become dehydrated and may need special medical attention. This problem with dehydration is usually only seen among the very young, the elderly and persons with weakened immune systems.

Where noroviruses are found

Noroviruses are found in the stool or vomit of infected people and on infected surfaces that have been touched by people who are sick. Outbreaks occur more frequently where there are more people in a small area, such as nursing homes, restaurants, catered events and cruise ships.

Reasons why noroviruses are associated with cruise ships are that health officials track illness on cruise ships. Therefore, outbreaks are often detected and reported more quickly on a cruise ship than on land.

Close living quarters may increase the amount of group contact. New passenger arrivals may bring the virus to other passengers and crew.

How noroviruses are spread

Noroviruses are highly contagious, but infections are not usually serious. People infected with norovirus are contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill to at least three days after recovery. Some people may be contagious for as long as two weeks after recovery. Therefore, it is particularly important for people to use good hand washing and other hygienic practices after they have recently recovered from norovirus illness.

People can become infected with the virus by:

• Eating food or drinking liquids infected with noroviruses

• Touching surfaces or objects infected with noroviruses and then touching own mouth, nose or eyes

• Having person-to-person contact (with a norovirus-infected person) by: being present while someone is vomiting, sharing food or eating from the same utensils, caring for a sick person, shaking hands, not washing hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before eating or preparing food.

Individuals working in day-care centers or nursing homes should pay special attention to children or residents who have norovirus illness. The virus is very contagious and can spread rapidly throughout such environments.

What to do if you get norovirus

If you are on a cruise ship, advise the medical staff of your illness. Drink plenty of fluids and wash hands often.

How to prevent getting and spreading noroviruses: wash hands often, wash hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before eating or preparing food.

Treatment options

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. This is because antibiotics work to fight bacteria and not viruses.

When people are ill with vomiting and diarrhea, they should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

Dehydration among young children, the elderly and those with chronic illness can be common, and it is the most serious health effect that can result from norovirus infection.

By drinking oral rehydration fluids, juice or water, people can reduce their chance of becoming dehydrated. Sports drinks do not replace the nutrients and minerals lost during this illness.
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