While no cases have been confirmed, the Hill County sanitarian said this morning that county health officials are spreading the word about how to reduce the chance of contracting — and spreading — a severe stomach virus.
“We’re trying to be as cautious as we can on this, ” Sanitarian Clay Vincent said, adding that with people coming in or leaving in celebration of the holiday, being extra careful would be a good idea.
The issue is dealing with norovirus, a group of viruses that cause gastroenteritis, which is inflammation of the intestines that often causes diarrhea, stomach cramping, nausea and vomiting. The illness also can cause low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a general sense of fatigue, although those are less-common symptoms.
Gastroenteritis is commonly called “the flu, ” “stomach flu” or food poisoning, although it is in no way connected to influenza — a severe respiratory infection.
The virus is extremely contagious, and is listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the most common cause of gastroenteritis.
There is no specific medicine to treat people with norovirus illness. Norovirus infection cannot be treated with antibiotics because it is a viral — not a bacterial — infection, CDC says on its website.
People with norovirus illness should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluid lost from throwing up and diarrhea. This will help prevent dehydration.
Sports drinks and other drinks without caffeine or alcohol can help with mild dehydration. But, these drinks may not replace important nutrients and minerals. Oral rehydration fluids that people can buy over-the-counter are most helpful for mild dehydration.
Dehydration can lead to serious problems, the CDC site goes on to say. Severe dehydration may require hospitalization for treatment with fluids given through the veins — intravenous or IV fluids. People who think they or someone they are caring for is severely dehydrated should call the doctor.
Vincent said Hill County health officials have had to deal with recurring cases of norovirus over the last few years, and some cases that may be caused by norovirus have been reported recently in Hill County.
“We have some (reported illnesses) that kind of fit the profile, ” he said.
Preventing a spread of the virus is a key.
“Norovirus grows so quickly because it’s transmitted so easily and it doesn’t take as much of the bugs, so to speak, to get sick, ” he said.
Vincent said a key to remaining healthy, and to not spread the virus, is good hygiene, and avoiding preparing food or leaving the house if the symptoms appear.
“That is the biggest thing, right there, ” he said. “If you have these symptoms of diarrhea or vomiting, and maybe but not necessarily both, at least for three days, don’t prepare food for people, don’t go out; wash your hands real good. ”
People can transmit the virus for two to three days after symptoms disappear, Vincent said.
He said another key is disinfecting areas that could contain the virus — especially commonly touched items like doorknobs, telephones and so on.
The best way to get rid of the virus is a chlorine solution, he said. CDC recommends using a bleach-based chlorine household cleaner or, if that is not available, a mixture of 5 tablespoons to 1 ½ cups household bleach per gallon of water.
Vincent said people with symptoms should avoid cooking or handling food while ill and do so for at least three days after the symptoms disappear.
“And wear rubber gloves if you’re preparing food if you have to …, ” he said. “That really helps a lot. That could really put this in its place. Really wash your hands good, and, if you’re sick, stay at home. ”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that noroviruses are the most common cause of gastroenteritis — inflammation of the intestines generally often due to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea — in the United States. CDC estimates that each year more than 20 million cases of acute gastroenteritis are caused by noroviruses. That means about one in every 15 Americans will get norovirus illness each year. Norovirus is also estimated to cause over 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths each year in the United States.
Stop the spread of Norovirus
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists several things people should do to avoid contracting norovirus and to prevent spreading it:
• Practice proper hand hygiene: People should wash their hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food. If soap and water aren't available, people can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. These alcohol-based products can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but they are not a substitute for washing with soap and water.
• Take care in the kitchen: People should carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
• Do not prepare food while infected: People with norovirus illness should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for three days after they recover from their illness.
• Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces: After throwing up or having diarrhea, people should immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces by using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label. If no such cleaning product is available, people can use a solution made with 5 tablespoons to 1½ cups of household bleach per 1 gallon of water.
• Wash laundry thoroughly: People should immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. They should handle soiled items carefully — without agitating them — to avoid spreading virus. If available, people should wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash their hands after handling. The items should be washed with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dried.