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New Strain of Norovirus (The Winter Vomiting Bug) On the Rise

Officials say it's active locally, but no reports of widespread cases have been made in Cuyahoga County.

Although the flu is on everyone’s minds this season, the winter vomiting bug, or the norovirus, is making its rounds — though it's not known how many cases have been contracted locally.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the norovirus causes about 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths each year, mostly in young children and the elderly.

Some of the virus' common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pains. The CDC points out that the norovirus is often referred to as the stomach flu, but it is unrelated to influenza.

In fact, the flu rarely involves intestinal symptoms. "Really everything from the chest down is something like the norovirus," said Cuyahoga County Board of Health Spokesperson Kevin Brennan.

The Board of Health does not receive reports of individual cases of norovirus, he added. 

Many people contract the bug and never see their doctor, leaving the number of cases uncertain.

Only long-term care facilities (places like hospitals, nursing homes and schools) are required to report outbreaks - two or more related cases - of the norovirus.

No such cases have been reported in Cuyahoga County this season.

"Obviously it's present and it’s out there but we haven’t seen a real outburst of it this year," said Brennan.

A new norovirus strain, GII.4 Sydney, was detected last year in Australia.  The strain hit the U.K. and sickened over a million people. It has now reached the United States and this new strain appears to be taking over.

Of norovirus cases reported nationally from September to December, 54 percent have been identified as GII.4 Sydney, according to recently released data.

The first norovirus outbreak was reported in Ohio in 1968. Today, approximately 21 million illnesses are attributable to norovirus in the U.S. each year, reports the CDC.  Of those, approximately 25 percent can be attributed to foodborne transmissions. The norovirus can also spread quickly in closed places like daycare centers, nursing homes, schools, and cruise ships.

This hardy virus is extremely contagious. The BBC reports that norovirus is one of the few infections you can catch from a toilet seat. The virus can survive temperatures as high as 140°F, which makes eating raw fish, such as oysters, particularly dangerous.

Noroviruses can live in vomit or stool even before a person experiences symptoms, and up to two weeks after symptoms disappear.  People are most contagious when they experience symptoms and during the first three days after recovery, reports the CDC.  

There is no treatment or vaccine against norovirus.  To help prevent contamination, the CDC recommends the following tips:

5 Tips to Prevent Norovirus From Spreading


1. Practice proper hand hygiene. 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.

2. Wash fruits and vegetables and cook seafood thoroughly

  • Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating them.
  • Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
  • Be aware that noroviruses are relatively resistant. They can survive temperatures as high as 140°F 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.

3. When you are sick, do not prepare food or care for others

  • You should not prepare food for others or provide healthcare while you are sick and for at least 2 to 3 days after you recover.
  • This also applies to sick workers in schools, daycares, and other places where they may expose people to norovirus.

4. Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces

  • After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces.
  • Use a chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of 1000–5000 ppm (5–25 tablespoons of household bleach [5.25%] per gallon of water) or other disinfectant registered as effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

5. Wash laundry thoroughly. Immediately remove and wash clothes or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool (feces).

You should also:

  • handle soiled items carefully without agitating them,
  • wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled items and wash your hands after,
  • and wash the items with detergent
Lori E. Switaj February 12, 2013 at 12:36 AM
Get well soon, Sally! This particular virus seems rather brutal.
Juanita March 02, 2013 at 02:51 AM
I just got it on Monday :"( very bad. Wat if anything were u able 2 eat?? Bcuz I throw everything up water, jello n broth u name it!! After reading this I'm scared bcuz it sayz itz a deadly virus :"( Please help!!
CJG March 02, 2013 at 05:11 AM
Juanita, it's quick moving so don't worry unless you end up with fever. Fevers can dehydrate, the main reason folks get so bad. After the first day, the vomiting should cease. You need to stay hydrated - try ice chips. Try everything in small amounts. You shouldn't be in danger unless you're a very sickly person normally like a compromised immune system. If you get worried, go to the doctor. Better to go and not need to than not go when you should! Prayers for your quick recovery.
Samantha March 09, 2013 at 02:51 AM
My husband and I both had a pretty bad case of this. Very serious virus. My uncle also had this and within less than 24 hrs his kidneys shut down from becoming so dehydrated from vomiting and diarrhea with no fever. He recovered after several days in the hospital thank goodness. So please just don't over look this serious virus! It can quickly become a bad situation
Jerry Lau March 17, 2013 at 02:34 PM
This stuff is rough. Here's a few things to note: -It comes on fast, you may not realize you have it until only moments before you are rushing to the nearest sink or toilet -Some never get the vomiting symptom (very few cases), however should you be vomiting, it should only last early on the first day of having it, to around halfway through the second day, but usually it will end late in the first day -I recommend waiting around 3 days after the last major attack (of vomiting or the runs) before returning to the classroom or your place of work, as you will be tired and likely still contagious. General course of infection: Day 1 -Cramps & Stomach pains (Not always noticeable and not always there) -Vomiting (Note that this is usually the first thing you notice, as it comes on very unexpectedly.Early signs may be slight stomach pains, mostly something you would disregard) -The Runs (Diarrhea, stay hydrated if possible.) Most of this should end at the first day Day 2 -Stomach pains -Diarrhea (should end fairly early in the day however) -Vomiting (If it doesn't end around half way through the day, you should get yourself checked out) -Exhaustion (Main point, hopefully your other symptoms have all but entire stopped Day 3 Exhaustion, unless otherwise found. You'll likely feel exhausted for almost 2-4 days after the last attack.

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