Dr. Mike Klatte, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Baystate Children’s Hospital, was interviewed by Western Mass News recently about an outbreak of norovirus striking some 18 school districts in the Reno, Nev. area.
The concern and big question for the pediatrician by the reporter was: “Could this outbreak make its way across the country to the Springfield area?”
“It is highly unlikely. This is not the type of infectious disease that typically spreads across the country,” said Dr. Klatte. “These outbreaks are usually confined to closed populations like schools, daycare centers, and nursing homes.”
Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States. Each year, it causes 19-21 million illnesses and contributes to 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths. Norovirus is also the most common cause of foodborne-disease outbreaks in the United States.
Extremely contagious – you can get the norovirus from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces – symptoms include stomach pain, nausea and vomiting, and diarrhea. Those infected usually develop symptoms 12-48 hours after being exposed to norovirus. Most people recover within 1-3 days. However, because of the vomiting and diarrhea, those infected – especially the young, older adults and those with other illnesses – may become severely dehydrated.
“Norovirus, often heard about in the news for infecting passengers on cruise ships, is a viral infection and cannot be treated with antibiotics. If you have norovirus, the best thing you can do is to drink plenty of liquids to replace fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhea,” said Dr. Klatte.
“Good hand hygiene is the best prevention for norovirus, especially after using the toilet or changing a baby’s diaper,” he added.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hand washing is also a good idea before eating or preparing or handling food. Noroviruses can be found in one’s vomit or stool even before they start feeling sick. The virus can stay in your stool for two weeks or more after you feel better. So, it’s important to continue washing your hands often during this time. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing, but should not be used as a substitute for washing with soap and water.