Stomach flu strikes Suffolk

Published 7:25 pm Thursday, December 16, 2010

Folks in Suffolk and throughout Hampton Roads are suffering from a nasty — though common — season of norovirus, health officials said Thursday.

The illness, sometimes called the stomach flu, is characterized by one or two days of vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It is highly contagious and spreads especially rapidly in environments like daycare centers and nursing homes.

“It’s normal this time of year to have it,” said Larry Hill, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Health. “Norovirus is something that’s pretty nasty. We know it’s here because we’re seeing cases of it.”

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Most people feel better within one to two days after infection, according to the CDC. There is no cure for it other than the age-old remedy of time.

“There’s not a whole lot you can actually do,” Hill said. “Just go through the cycle.”

The most significant danger involved in norovirus is the risk for dehydration. People who are sick should drink plenty of fluids and stay home.

Norovirus is most commonly spread by eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated; touching surfaces that are contaminated and then putting your hand to your mouth; or having direct contact with an infected person, such as when caring for them or sharing food, drinks or eating utensils with them.

People can prevent the spread of norovirus by observing the following tips:

• Practice proper hand hygiene. Hands should be washed carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers and before eating or preparing food. Hand sanitizers are not a substitute for washing with soap and water.

• Take care in the kitchen. Carefully wash fruits and vegetables and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.

• Do not prepare food while infected. People who are infected should avoid cooking for others while they have symptoms and for three days after they recover.

• Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces. Use a bleach-based household cleaner, or add 5-25 tablespoons of household bleach to one gallon of water.

• Wash laundry thoroughly. Any soiled clothing items should be laundered with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dried.