There's A Whole Lot of Something Going On

January 27, 2015

As you are walking around a store, a school or some other venue, it is likely you will hear some very “juicy” coughing and sneezing around every corner, especially in the little ones. You may also have had a personal experience (yourself, a family member or friend) with a hard-hitting stomach bug. Both respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses are common during the winter months. Some of them are true influenza, some are upper respiratory infections but none can be called the “stomach flu.”  

 There is a viral illness that is very intense, spreads rapidly from person to person in the home, the school, businesses, health care institutions, college campuses or cruise ships. It causes vomiting and/or diarrhea and general gastrointestinal illness. It often is over as fast as it came on. Outbreaks have occurred within the QVHD community, across the state of Connecticut and across the nation. This illness is usually called Norovirus infection or “winter vomiting disease” and is caused by norovirus (or one of its variations.) It can make you feel very sick; even sick enough to go to the emergency room.

 There is a lot of information on Noroviruses on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website. This column provides a synopsis of the information.

  • Noroviruses are the most common cause of gastointestinal illness in the United States, causing 19-21 million illnesses and over 50,000 hospitalizations every year.  
  • Anyone can get infected with norovirus and become sick.
  • You can get norovirus more than once in your life.
  • Noroviruses are transmitted easily. It doesn’t take many viruses to cause illness. The amount of virus particles that can fit on the head of a pin can cause 1,000 people to become ill!
  • This virus is found in the stool and vomit of someone who is ill. The virus can stay alive in stool for two weeks or more after symptoms pass.  
  • Norovirus illness is usually not serious. Most people get better in 1 to 3 days. But it can be very serious in young children, the elderly and people with other health conditions. It can lead to severe dehydration.

 When you are vomiting, the last thing you want to think about is eating or drinking. But replacing fluids is very important so that you do not become dehydrated. Most people do not realize that dehydration can lead to very serious health problems. It is very important to get fluids (without caffeine or alcohol) into the body. Water is a good choice, but may not replace electrolytes that are lost. If the person you are caring for shows signs of severe dehydration (decrease in urination, dizziness, disorientation, confusion, slurred speech, very sleepy or any unusual behavior) you should seek medical help right away. 

 There is no vaccine or medication to treat this illness. Antibiotics will NOT make you better, so don’t even ask for them. Your best defense is offense. WASH, WASH, WASH those hands thoroughly and frequently; the more often, the better! Use great care in the kitchen when preparing foods: wash produce, cook foods completely, don’t contaminate food surfaces and DO NOT prepare foods for others when you are ill. Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces (those with vomit or diarrhea) with a bleach-based household cleanser, as directed on the product label. Machine wash contaminated bed linens, towels and clothing. Wearing disposable gloves may also help to prevent contracting the illness. If you are a health care worker, or provide health care in the home to a family member, you should abstain from doing so until 3 days after your symptoms stop.

 Norovirus infection is not a pleasant illness. Many people associate getting sick with the last food they ate and will NEVER eat that food again. Chances are that was not where you contracted the illness but the brain is powerful and you may never break that association!  It is often hard to determine the source of the infection unless many people become ill at the same time or from the same event. Transmission of this virus through food is the second most frequent setting for outbreaks from restaurants or banquets. This information has been provided by Quinnipiack Valley Health District, the public health department for Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge. Visit us on our website, www.qvhd.org.