Winter Vomiting Disease

February 07, 2017

 It hits hard and fast. It is very intense. It 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. But it is not the “stomach flu” despite its popular name among victims. Flu refers to respiratory illness and does not occur in other organs of the body.

 There is a viral illness that strikes as described above. It has occurred within the QVHD community and across the state of Connecticut. More properly, 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.

 The Centers for Disease Control offers the following information on the web page http://www.cdc.gov/features/norovirus/?s_cid=fb578:

  • Noroviruses are a group of related viruses. They are the most common cause of gastointestinal illness in the United States. Norovirus is estimated to cause over 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths each year in the United States.
  • Infection with these viruses affects the stomach and intestines.
  • 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. This virus is found in the stool and vomit of someone who is ill. If a little bit gets on food or an object, you can ingest the virus and become ill.
  • People are contagious from the moment they are sick until 3 days (or more) after they recover.  
  • The illness often begins suddenly. You may feel very sick, with stomach cramping, vomiting and diarrhea. Other symptoms can include low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a general sense of fatigue.
  • Norovirus illness is usually not serious. Most people get better in 1 to 2 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.

 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! 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. Click on the Facebook icon to “like us” and the Twitter icon to follow us.