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Stomach bug season underway

SPRINGVILLE — The Erie County Department of Health has announced that, in addition to flu season, this is the peak time for the spread of the norovirus, colloquially known as the stomach bug.

“Norovirus is a very contagious virus that can infect anyone at any time. Someone can get it from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces,” said Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein. “Frequent hand-washing is the most important health tip for all of us to remember, so that we don’t spread illness.”

Noroviruses are the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the United States. The Center for Disease Control estimated that more than 20 million annual cases of acute gastroenteritis are caused by noroviruses. Approximately one out of every 15 Americans will contract norovirus illness, each year. The norovirus causes more than 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths, each year, in the United States.

Norovirus illness is sometimes incorrectly labeled “food poisoning” or the “stomach flu.” While food poisoning can be caused by noroviruses, other germs and chemicals can also cause this malady. The norovirus illness is not related to the flu, which is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus.

Symptoms of norovirus infection may include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach cramping. Other, less common symptoms include a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and fatigue.

Anyone may be infected with noroviruses and become ill. In addition, anyone can get norovirus illness more than once, during his or her lifetime.

This sickness often begins suddenly, but the norovirus illness is usually not serious. Most people get better in one – two­ days, but the norovirus illness can be serious in young children, the elderly and people with other health conditions. It can lead to severe dehydration, hospitalization and death.

There is no vaccine to prevent norovirus infection and no drug exists to treat people who get sick from this virus.

To reduce the chance of getting norovirus, wash hands often, with soap and water, especially after using the toilet, changing diapers and before eating, preparing or handling food. If soap and water are not available, utilize an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Alcohol-based products can reduce the number of germs on hands, in some situations, but are not a substitute for washing with soap and water.

For more information, visit the Erie County Department of Health’s website, www.erie.gov/health; the New York State Department of Health’s website, www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/norwalk/fact_sheet.htm or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, www.cdc.gov/Features/Norovirus.
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