Norovirus is likely among the reasons behind increased reports of recent illnesses in Wyoming, according to the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH).
People who are sick with norovirus may experience nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, fatigue and dehydration. Other viruses and illnesses caused by bacteria contamination such as from E. coli can cause similar symptoms, but norovirus is the most common culprit.
Commonly described as “stomach flu” or “food poisoning,” norovirus is spread when people eat or drink contaminated food and beverages, touch contaminated surfaces or through close contact with someone already sick.
Matt Peterson, WDH surveillance epidemiologist, said contamination is almost always not obvious. “We’re often talking about extremely tiny amounts of poop or vomit. We can’t see it but it can make us very sick,” he said “When people get ill this way, they most often blame the last thing they ate, but norovirus and bacterial illness can spread through many routes other than just eating food,” Peterson said.
Illness can hit quickly between 12 to 48 hours after a person has been exposed. Symptoms usually last from one to three days and go away without causing long-term problems.
“Norovirus and other illnesses with similar symptoms can be serious when people become dehydrated,” Peterson said. He noted those who become severely ill may need to call or visit a medical professional. Infants, young children, immune-compromised persons, and persons unable to care for themselves, such as the disabled or elderly, are at higher risk for dehydration and may need hospitalization.
“We are specifically seeing increased reports of E. coli across the state recently compared to previous years, which can be particularly concerning in children under 5,” Peterson said. Parents with children who are suffering from stomach-related symptoms that do not improve after 72 hours, or if their child has bloody diarrhea, should seek medical care for the child because these could be signs of bacterial infection.
“Norovirus illnesses can be prevented,” Peterson said. “It sounds too simple, but, truly, good hand washing is critical. People can still be contagious and spread the virus for a few days after they no longer have symptoms.”
Recommended steps to help prevent illness include:
Frequently wash hands, especially after using the restroom or changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food.
If ill, stay home from work and school, especially if employed in food-handling, healthcare or child care.
Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of vomiting or diarrhea with a solution of 1 cup household bleach per 1 gallon of water and letting the solution sit for one minute. Always follow manufacturers’ safety precautions.
Immediately remove and wash contaminated clothing or linens after an episode of illness (use hot water and soap).
Flush or discard any vomit and/or poop in the toilet and keep the surrounding area clean.
Ill persons should take extra care to avoid spreading the virus by minimizing contact with other persons while ill and practicing good hygiene.