El Paso County, CO—El Paso County Public Health has noticed a sharp increase in gastrointestinal illness in the community, particularly over the past 2 weeks. This illness causes stomach cramping, vomiting and diarrhea and is likely due to an infection caused by ‘norovirus.’ Since Dec. 1, there have been six gastrointestinal outbreaks reported to Public Health in institutional-type settings.
“The outbreaks our infectious disease specialists have been investigating serve as a strong indicator of illness that is more widespread in the community, which is also consistent with what we are hearing about from medical providers. People need to take steps to avoid getting sick and if you or your family are experiencing a vomiting or diarrheal illness, then we recommend that you stay home to reduce the spread of illness,” said El Paso County Public Health, Executive Director, Kandi Buckland.
Norovirus illness is not related to the flu (influenza), which is a respiratory illness caused by influenza virus. Rather, norovirus is an intestinal infection that is highly contagious and can easily be transmitted from an infected person to other people. “Anyone infected with norovirus is contagious from the moment they begin feeling sick to at least 2-3 days after they recover. There is no vaccine against norovirus, so it is particularly important for people with this infection to be extremely thorough when washing hands and to avoid contact with others. Since antibiotics are used to fight bacteria, they will not treat norovirus infection,” Buckland adds.
What are the Symptoms of Norovirus?
Infection usually includes diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach cramping. Norovirus illness can be serious in young children, the elderly, and people with other health conditions because it can lead to severe dehydration. Illness usually begins 12 -24 hours after exposure and generally lasts 1-2 days.
How is Norovirus Spread?
Norovirus is highly contagious and is commonly spread by an infected person who does not wash their hands thoroughly. The germ can also be found on contaminated surfaces, such as areas in a bathroom that an ill person is using or on tabletops.
Drink enough liquids to replace the fluids lost from vomiting or diarrhea. Symptoms of dehydration include a decrease in urination, a dry mouth and feeling dizzy when standing up. Children who are dehydrated may also cry with few or no tears and be unusually sleepy or fussy. If you think you or someone you are caring for is dehydrated, contact your doctor.
Take These Steps to Protect Yourself and Other Household Members:
- Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Show children how to properly wash their hands.
- Keep surfaces clean by wiping them down with a store-bought household disinfectant. Clean at least once a day and concentrate on surfaces such as tables, bathroom sinks and toilets, phones, door knobs, children’s toys, or other commonly touched items.
- If someone in your home is sick with a gastrointestinal illness, limit the people who assist in caring for the illness. Do not share items that the sick person has used without cleaning them first.
- Wash linens (such as bed sheets and towels) by using household laundry soap and tumble dry on a hot setting. Wash your hands after handling dirty laundry.
- Use paper towels for drying hands after hand washing or dedicate cloth towels to each person in the household. For example, have different colored towels for each person.
For additional guidance about norovirus, visit www.elpasocountyhealth.org.