There are reports the dreaded norovirus is once again making the rounds here in Northern Michigan.
The norovirus is a highly contagious illness caused by a viral infection. It is often called by other names, such as viral gastroenteritis, stomach flu and food poisoning. It causes inflammation of the stomach and the most common symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain.
Some area schools in the Petoskey area reported that over the last two weeks, they experienced absences of students out with “flu-like” symptoms. Some area day care and preschool centers also told the News-Review they’ve had students and staff out with similar symptoms.
Jane Sundmacher, public information officer for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, said since the norovirus is not a reportable disease, it is hard to track and not directly reported to the health department. Sundmacher did say that she had heard reports of people in the area with norovirus symptoms in recent weeks.
The virus is highly contagious and outbreaks are common.
Just last month, the Associated Press reported several inmates at a Jackson prison became ill with the norovirus and the prison had to be disinfected.
The norovirus is spread by eating food or consuming beverages contaminated with the virus, by people touching contaminated surfaces or objects then placing their hand in their mouth, or having direct contact with an infected person.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports while there is no vaccine to prevent norovirus or drugs to treat the illness, there are ways to help prevent its spread. They include practicing proper hand hygiene, including washing hands with hot soap and water often, especially after using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food. Carefully wash fruits and vegetables and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them. Do not prepare food while infected and clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces. Also, wash laundry thoroughly, especially clothing and linens that may be contaminated with vomit or fecal matter.
While the norovirus can make people feel extremely ill, most people get better within one to two days. However, dehydration can be a problem among people with norovirus infection, especially the very young, elderly and people with other illnesses.
The CDC estimates that more than 20 million cases of acute gastroenteritis each year are because of the norovirus.