This winter, a vomiting bug has made an appearance around the festive season. A new strain of norovirus has hit Minnesota with over 20 cases reported.
GII.17 Kawasaki led to many outbreaks in Asia last year before coming to the U.S. The first outbreak was reported last week by the Minnesota Department of Health. Sporadic cases of the new norovirus strain first showed up in Minnesota earlier this year, with over 20 outbreaks since September investigated by the department.
A foodborne disease epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), Amy Saupe said, “Every few years, a new strain of norovirus emerges and causes many illnesses. We don’t know yet if this new strain will lead to an increase in the number of outbreaks reported, but it could. If we’re meticulous about washing our hands and handling food properly, we may be able to limit the impact. “
People often confuse the norovirus with the flu and call it “stomach flu.” But in reality, influenza is a respiratory illness with symptoms like high fever, chills, body aches, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, and/or coughing. On the other hand, a norovirus is not spread through coughing and sneezing, as it is not a respiratory illness.
Saupe added, “When people say that they have ‘stomach flu,’ referring to a short illness with diarrhea and/or vomiting, what they generally have is a norovirus infection.”
The norovirus symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, body aches, a general run-down feeling, and a mild fever. Symptoms typically begin 24 to 48 hours after acquiring the virus and usually last one to two days. The virus finds its way in a person’s body through fecal-oral contact, meaning if a person comes in contact with the vomit or feces of an infected person, it can cause sickness. Even a tiny amount of virus can make one sick.
Saupe said, “Fecal-oral transmission sounds gross, but it’s important for people to understand that they may have gotten their norovirus from food, and that they could pass the virus to others by handling food, even after their symptoms are gone.”
The norovirus infected employees who prepared and served food to restaurant patrons, resulting in sickness in at least 25 individuals in Minnesota.
The department made some recommendations. The majority of norovirus illnesses and outbreaks can be prevented through good hand washing and appropriate food handling. Always wash your hands well before preparing food, and do not prepare food for others (at home or for your job) at all if you have been sick with vomiting or diarrhea in the last three days. If you are sick with vomiting or diarrhea, wash your hands very carefully after using the restroom. Norovirus can remain present in your stool for several days even after you are feeling better, so continue to be extra careful about handwashing.
Always wash your hands before eating. Do not eat food prepared by someone who is ill with vomiting or diarrhea. If someone in your household is sick with vomiting or diarrhea, have them use a separate bathroom, if possible. Clean surfaces with soap and water and sanitize with a bleach solution to kill any norovirus that was spread to bathroom or kitchen surfaces. Launder soiled clothing in hot water promptly. Wash your hands after helping children in the bathroom or touching surfaces that may have vomit or feces on them.
Thorough handwashing includes washing your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, rinsing under running water, and drying with a towel.
Saupe recommended, “No one likes to get vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach aches, especially during the holidays. Norovirus tends to hit especially hard during the winter season, so now is a good time to get in the handwashing and norovirus prevention habit.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has valuable inputs and information on the winter bug to help you keep safe from the illness this festive season.
[Image via www.cdc.gov]