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It's Not the Flu
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You have probably experienced it. Most people have. Friday evening you feel fine. A few hours later your stomach starts feeling queasy. Shortly after that you begin vomiting – and diarrhea forces you to stay close to the bathroom. Except you ache so badly you want to go to bed and stay there.

You ache so much that you fear you are going to die. Then you fear that you might not die – it will go on forever. Almost as quickly as the disease strikes, it goes away. Sometimes you feel better within a day. Typically, by Sunday night you will feel as if you are human again.  Rarely do the symptoms last a week or more.

What hit you?

Not influenza, although many call it stomach flu. Nor was your illness related to toxins, despite commonly being labeled as food poisoning. The culprit is what may be the most anonymous common disease around, a virus named norovirus. It may be responsible for over half the cases of foodborne illness in the United States.

It is unsurprising that most consider it to be a form of influenza or an example of food poisoning.  Norovirus causes many ‘flu-like symptoms, including fever and muscle pain. Where influenza is a respiratory disease, norovirus’s habitat is the digestive tract.

No Permanent Immunity

Noroviruses are an extremely simple, although genetically diverse family of viruses. What is worse, unlike influenza, your body does not develop permanent immunity to norovirus strains.

Norovirus rarely kills. Only 300 deaths annually are attributable to norovirus. Most fatality victims had other health issues. It does leave someone miserable enough to wish to avoid it.

Norovirus is commonly passed through direct contact with the virus. It is typically transmitted when food comes in physical contact with a surface contaminated with norovirus by someone who already has it. Touching a contaminated object, and then licking your finger can also pass it to you.

Here are some tips on reducing your exposure to norovirus and your chances of contracting it.
  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly after going to the bathroom and before preparing food.  
  • Always wash fresh vegetables thoroughly.
  • Never allow anyone with norovirus to prepare food. If you think you have norovirus avoid preparing food. You will pass the virus to others if you do.
  • Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces. If someone in your house gets norovirus, clean surfaces with which they have come in contact using a chlorine-based disinfectant.Launder contaminated clothing. Any sheets, blankets or clothing which may have come in contact with either vomit or fecal particles from an infected victim need to be thoroughly washed, preferably in hot water with chlorine bleach added.
  • Avoid direct contact with contaminated surfaces. Wear rubber gloves, and sanitize them before removing them. Isolate contaminated clothing and surfaces to the extent possible until they are sanitized.
Learn more about norovirus, and get further tips about prevention at the Center For Disease Control’s website:  http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/index.html. Check it out.

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2012 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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