By VINCE DEVLIN of the Missoulian
July 1, 2006

It’s usually not serious, but it can be incredibly uncomfortable for a couple of days.

The Missoula City-County Health Department has confirmed that norovirus – you’d most likely refer to it as ìstomach fluî – is going around Missoula.

More than 2,000 people in Billings have been sickened by it recently.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea. It rarely lasts more than a day or two and there are no lasting effects.

However, the violent vomiting and diarrhea can lead to severe dehydration, the treatment of which sometimes requires hospitalization.

ìThe problem with norovirus is that once it’s present in the community, it can be hard to get rid of,î said Pam Goldberg, infectious disease specialist with Missoula’s health department.

A low dose of the virus can make people sick. The virus can survive freezing and heat to 140 degrees, and can live on surfaces and in the environment for several days.

People can get sick from food or drinks contaminated with norovirus, by touching an affected surface and then touching their mouth, or by having direct contact with an infected person.

People infected with norovirus can pass it on for up to three days after their symptoms disappear.

The best way to avoid catching the virus is to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, Goldberg said.

It is especially important that people who care for the elderly, work in child care or prepare food for the public be vigilant about hand-washing, and that the facilities where they work increase their cleaning and sanitation schedule, especially in

kitchens, dining rooms and bathrooms.

ìAnecdotally, we’ve heard of a lot of people who have been sick with the stomach flu,î Goldberg said. ìWith these confirmed lab results, we can assume that a lot of what is going around out there is norovirus.î

The ìstomach fluî is not related to the flu, or influenza, which is a respiratory illness.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 523-5260 or at