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New strain of stomach virus arrives in Minnesota

ST. PAUL -- It is just what people want to hear at the holidays: A new strain of what many call "stomach flu" has arrived. The norovirus intestinal illness has been reported in Minnesota, state health officials said Tuesday. "Every few years, a n...

2218343+Norovirus_4.jpg
An image of a strain of norovirus under an electron microscope. Courtesy Environmental Protection Agency

 

 

ST. PAUL -- It is just what people want to hear at the holidays: A new strain of what many call "stomach flu" has arrived.

The norovirus intestinal illness has been reported in Minnesota, state health officials said Tuesday.

“Every few years, a new strain of norovirus emerges and causes many illnesses," the Minnesota Health Department's Amy Saupe said. "We don’t know yet if this new strain will lead to an increase in the number of outbreaks reported, but it could."

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That means people should make it a practice of washing their hands often.

“If we’re meticulous about washing our hands and handling food properly, we may be able to limit the impact,” Saupe said.

The new strain is called GII.17 Kawasaki and caused Asian outbreaks last winter before heading to the United States. The first Minnesota outbreak of the stain was reported last week, along with other norovirus-like illnesses that have not been confirmed.

Norovirus illnesses are not "stomach flu," Health Department officials say, because there is no relation to respiratory influenza, which is the real flu.

“When people say that they have ‘stomach flu,’ referring to a short illness with diarrhea and/or vomiting, what they generally have is a norovirus infection,” Saupe said.

Norovirus can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, body aches, a general run-down feeling and a mild fever. Symptoms typically start within two days of swallowing the virus and the illness may last a couple of days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report up to 21 million people get the illness each year, with up to 800 dying of it.

The federal agency says that norovirus can spread especially quickly in closed places such as child care centers, nursing homes, schools and cruise ships. Most norovirus outbreaks happen from November to April.

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The virus causes the stomach or intestines, or both, to get inflamed.

It is not spread by breath or coughs, but from feces or vomit of people who are sick or recently sick with norovirus.

"Fecal-oral transmission sounds gross, but it’s important for people to understand that they may have gotten their norovirus from food, and that they could pass the virus to others by handling food, even after their symptoms are gone,” Saupe said.

The Health Department advises: Always wash hands well before preparing food, and do not prepare food for others at all if you have been sick with vomiting or diarrhea in the last three days. Those who are sick with vomiting or diarrhea should wash hands very carefully after using the bathroom. Thorough hand-washing includes washing with soap for at least 20 seconds, rinsing under running water and drying with a towel.

“No one likes to get vomiting, diarrhea and stomach aches, especially during the holidays,” Saupe said. “Norovirus tends to hit especially hard during the winter season, so now is a good time to get in the hand-washing and norovirus prevention habit.”

Related Topics: HEALTH
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