Though I am usually not one to read up on what illnesses are going around, it was brought to my attention that a new strain of norovirus has brought many nations a good scare in the past several months. However, if people buying organic food are talking about it in the check out line, it’s likely of interest to readers of a wellness site.
What Are Noroviruses?
This family of viruses creates an inflammation of the intestines and stomach, called gastroenteritis, when a person is infected. Noroviruses can infect anyone and may recur multiple times in a person’s life. It typically takes its course immediately, giving the infected person instant feelings of nausea, stomach cramping, and resulting in vomiting and diarrhea. This kind of virus is the most frequent cause of gastroenteritis in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 20 million cases of gastroenteritis occur each year due to noroviruses. In other words, every year, 1 in 15 Americans becomes infected with this type of illness. On a more serious note, noroviruses actually are projected to cause more than 800 deaths and 70,000 hospitalizations on a yearly basis in this country.
The most recent strain was first discovered in Australia in March 2012, called Norovirus Strain GII.4 Sydney. Travelers who have recently visited infected areas of the country have brought the virus back home with them to the United States and other nations. Presently, this strain is the top cause of norovirus outbreaks in our nation. Therefore, many bathrooms will be busy this season, as it is also called the “Winter Norovirus.”
Since its arrival in America, GII.4 Sydney has spread quickly, with high numbers occurring between September and December 2012. During this interval, a total of 141 (56 percent) of the 266 reported norovirus outbreaks were caused by GII.4 Sydney. Other norovirus outbreaks were caused by different GI and GII (the rating system for the family Caliciviridae, to which noroviruses belong – ranges from GI to GV) illnesses such as GII.4 New Orleans. Sydney’s norovirus seemed to do the most damage in recent months, however. And where are these viruses spending most of their time? Long-term care facilities accounted for 91 cases, or 65 percent, and restaurants were responsible for 18 cases, or 13 percent, of GII.4 Sydney outbreaks. As for 2013, experts are still monitoring the illness to see if it will be worse this season that in other years.
Who is Affected By Norovirus
In general, norovirus outbreaks occur most often among the elderly, young children, and people with poor immune systems. It can be referred to as food poisoning or stomach flu, but while food poisoning can be caused by noroviruses, it is not related to influenza virus. The good news is, norovirus is generally not a serious health problem – despite the provided mortality statistics. The majority of infected people recover in 1 to 2 days. Those who have a more difficult time recovering have weak immune systems, including those already mentioned and people with chronic conditions. For such persons, a norovirus may cause severe dehydration and even death. If you fit this description and are worried you may be infected, drink plenty of fluids, especially those that replace important nutrients lost during diarrhead and vomiting.
Take care of yourself and avoid infection from noroviruses with a few simple, preventive measures (which should already be part of daily life). These are especially important practices for those who are near anyone infected.
Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, making sure you have reached every area that may be exposed to germs. In the event that soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based sanitizer, or even just plain isopropyl alcohol. While hand sanitizers temporarily kill germs, they never quite do the equivalent of actual antibacterial soap and water, so use those as much as you can.
Disinfect and wash surfaces
If you or someone else around you is infected, clean up after vomiting and diarrhea immediately with a bleach-based product. You can also mix a bleach-water solution with a five-to-one ratio of water to bleach if you don’t have a specific product available.
Do the laundry
For anyone who may be exposed to norovirus, it is essential to wash linens and clothing that may be infected or contain any vomit or stool to prevent infection. Wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling such items and thoroughly wash your hands afterwards. Wash such items for the longest possible cycle on high heat and dried on high heat to eliminate the virus.
If you’re infected with norovirus, do not prepare food for anyone other than yourself while your symptoms persist, and up until three days after your symptoms have disappeared.
There is no specific treatment, which means you can technically avoid the doctor, unless you require formal diagnosis. As it is a viral infection, you must wait for the virus to leave your body, and it will not respond to antibiotics. Drink lots of water and other hydrating fluids such as juice, tea, and sports drinks. Also try nutrient-packed smoothies and over-the-counter oral rehydration fluids. As mentioned, it should be gone in 1 to 2 days. If not, call your doctor.
How Coverage Can Help
If you and uninsured – and unsure of your current condition, diagnosing yourself through web articles is never safe, unless you are a doctor yourself. Having access to medical professionals in case of an emergency or illness is essential, as it will save you money and confusion in the long run. You can recover faster, and have a provider at your side to help you pinpoint your symptoms. As there are many noroviruses and other illnesses with similar symptoms, it is best to seek professional advice before you begin treatment.
Coverage for an office visit for something like a norovirus would be inexpensive with most health plans. If you have a plan with office visit coverage for a copay, you’re looking at no more than $40 with most individual plans. While norovirus may not require any prescription medications, some plans offer discounts at health food stores (I noticed Humana discounts at Smoothie King in some states) and for over-the-counter products, which can also help you get well for a lower cost.
1. Centers for Disease Control. Prevent the Spread of Norovirus.
3. Image: Food Safety News.