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RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Department of Health reports that cases of norovirus, or winter vomiting disease, are on the increase in Virginia. The gastrointestinal disease is seasonal, occurring most often during the winter and causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and occasionally a headache and low-grade fever.
Symptoms generally last between two to three days, without serious or long-term health effects. Outbreaks of norovirus (previously called Norwalk virus) often result in high absenteeism, especially in schools and daycares.
While this disease is not typically life threatening, it can be a serious illness for persons who are unable to drink enough fluids to replace what they lose through vomiting or diarrhea, explained State Health Commissioner Robert B. Stroube, MD, MPH. Infants, young children, immuno-compromised individuals, and those who may be unable to care for themselves, such as the disabled or elderly, are at risk for dehydration from loss of fluids.
Norovirus is present in the stool and vomit of infected people and is spread primarily through person-to-person contact. According the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, norovirus is also a common cause of foodborne illness. A person with the illness can contaminate food during preparation or serving. Unlike many foodborne germs that have animal sources, infected people are the only source for norovirus.
The virus is common and very contagious. warns Acting State Epidemiologist Suzanne Jenkins, VMD, MPH. Some situations increase the risk for transmission. Children who have vomiting and diarrhea should be kept out of daycare. Health care workers and persons who handle food should not go to work while they have diarrhea and should stay out of work for at least three days after symptoms subside.
To prevent the spread of norovirus the following precautions should be taken:
-- Wash your hands frequently
-- People who are sick should not prepare, serve or handle food for others, which can spread the virus
-- People who work in direct patient care and child and elder care should not work when they have a gastrointestinal illness and should remain home from work for three days after symptoms end
-- Promptly disinfect contaminated surfaces with household chlorine bleach-based cleaners
-- Promptly wash soiled articles of clothing
Additional information on norovirus is available on the Virginia Department of Healths Web site at www.vdh.virginia.gov/epi/norovirusf.pdf.