Local/State

Stomach virus outbreak spreads across NC

Thursday, February 02, 2012

North Carolina health officials say an outbreak of norovirus is spreading across the state, and they're urging residents to protect themselves.

A rash of the unpleasant gastrointestinal illness has been reported from Charlotte to Wake County.

"The most important message we have right now is that people who are ill with vomiting or diarrhea should not work, go to school or attend daycare while they are having symptoms," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Megan Davies. "Everyone needs to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water. This is the most effective way to protect yourself and others against norovirus since hand sanitizers alone are not as effective against this hardy virus."

Davies said symptoms of norovirus include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping. Some may have fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a general sense of tiredness. The symptoms can begin suddenly and an infected person may go from feeling well to very sick in a very short period of time. In most people, the illness lasts for about one or two days.

Norovirus outbreaks are hard to contain, as an infected person is contagious from the moment they begin feeling sick until at least three days after they recover. Some people may be contagious for even longer, Davies added. Infection can be more severe in young children and elderly people. Dehydration can occur rapidly and may require medical treatment or hospitalization.

Noroviruses are usually transmitted by touching a contaminated surface, direct contact with an infected person, or by eating food or drinking liquids that have been contaminated with the virus.

It's also difficult to kill the virus with normal cleaning and disinfecting procedures. Health officials recommend using a diluted bleach solution or a bleach-based household cleaner to clean infected surfaces.

For more information about norovirus, see the Division of Public Health Web site at www.ncpublichealth.com. More detailed information about cleanup in private homes and in other settings can be found at http://epi.publichealth.nc.gov/cd/norovirus/NORO_personal_health.pdf

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