The height of flu season is upon us, but this year, there’s another illness that’s grabbing the spotlight. Outbreaks of norovirus, the nasty group of stomach bugs that get attention when they hit a cruise ship, are showing up everywhere. It closed a Washington hotel and is popping up on college campuses and in communities across the US.
“It’s epidemic proportions in many places in the country unfortunately,” says Eliana Perrin, MD, University of North Carolina Pediatrician.
It is norovirus. A group of bugs most people know as the stomach flu. Perrin has seen a number of cases. “I’ve actually seen it more as a parent. I’ve seen some children in our daycare. They’re affected, their families are affected, everybody is sick.”
Across campus, Scientist Ralph Baric runs a norovirus lab. He says this year’s rampant outbreaks are linked to a strain called G24 that first emerged about a decade ago. “It’s been changing every year this year seems to be particularly hot,” says Baric.
It’s causing a menu of stomach woes that often appear within 18 hours of exposure to the highly contagious virus. “Symptoms end about 48 hours later.” People can still spread norovirus for weeks after the symptoms are gone and so can some people who never have symptoms. “About 30 percent of people we’ve done hematology studies with can be infected but don’t actually become severely affected with clinical disease,” says Baric. “Do the best you can with hand washing particularly after diapering a child,” says Perrin.
More reason to keep washing those hands.