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Health Dept: Stomach virus circulating

Visits up 19 percent in past two weeks
November 8, 2008 9:12:32 AM PST
The highly contagious stomach illness that typically turns up in each fall is circulating in New York City, the Health Department reported Friday.According to the department's surveillance system, visits to the city's emergency departments for vomiting and diarrhea have increased 19 percent in the past two weeks, to about 400 per day. New Yorkers can take basic steps to prevent the illness, such as washing hands thoroughly and regularly.

The illnesses have been attributed to norovirus, often called "stomach flu," but unrelated to influenza. The virus becomes more prevalent in the late fall and winter. Norovirus infections are usually not serious and most people get better within a few days. People with norovirus generally experience vomiting and diarrhea. Other symptoms may include nausea, stomach cramping, fever, chills, aches and tiredness.

"Norovirus infection is a miserable experience, and can be serious if you become dehydrated," said Dr. Sharon Balter, a medical epidemiologist at the Health Department. "Thorough hand-washing with soap and warm water - especially before eating and after using the bathroom - is the best way to avoid it."

Because stomach viruses can spread quickly in group settings, school children and parents should be especially careful. So should people who visit or work in nursing homes or child care centers.

"If you get sick with diarrhea or vomiting, stay home so that you don't spread the infection to others," Balter said. "Keeping sick kids home from school or day care is especially important."

There are no specific treatments for stomach viruses; people typically recover on their own within a day or two. But anyone with diarrhea or vomiting, particularly young children, should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, the most worrisome consequence of stomach viruses. If you are concerned about becoming dehydrated, go to a health care provider or hospital immediately.

People can become sick with this stomach virus in several ways, including:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids that have been contaminated by a person with norovirus
  • Coming into contact with vomit from an infected person or a recently contaminated surface
  • Having direct contact with another person who is sick
  • Sharing foods or eating utensils with someone who is sick
  • Changing a diaper of a sick child

    How to prevent stomach viruses:

  • Wash your hands often, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers, and before touching food. Remind children to wash their hands after using the bathroom and before eating. Always wash hands with warm water for at least 20 seconds or use a commercial hand sanitizer product.

  • If you have a stomach virus, stay at home until you are no longer experiencing vomiting or diarrhea. Be sure to keep children at home if they are ill.

  • If someone is sick, clean and disinfect surfaces that may have become dirty with vomit or stool as soon as possible with a germ-killing cleanser (i.e. a cleanser that contains bleach). Throw out any vomit or stool you clean up in sealed plastic bags. Remember to wear gloves and wash your hands after cleaning.

    For more information on noroviruses, please visit NYC.gov/html/doh/html/cd/cdnor.shtml


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