Stomach virus crosses Long Island: what you need to know

If you haven’t had it, you probably know someone who has – a nasty stomach virus that spreads on Long Island and many parts of the United States.

Norovirus, a highly contagious virus, causes acute gastroenteritis, inflammation of the stomach and intestines in children and adults. This means vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. It tends to circulate between November and April, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In recent weeks, emergency rooms in Nassau and Suffolk counties have reported an increase in the number of patients with norovirus or similar symptoms, which can lead to dehydration and other problems.

While this may seem like an unusual increase in cases, the CDC said the national trend in norovirus cases this season is similar to pre-COVID-19 pandemic years. Like many other viruses, norovirus cases have appeared to decline in recent years due to COVID-19 safeguards such as masking and social distancing. Many of these protocols have come to an end as the number of COVID-19 cases has declined.

“It’s a very contagious virus, and you don’t need a lot of the virus to get infected,” said Catholic Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Alan Bulbin. “The highest risk is when you are around someone who is symptomatic. This is how you can have household outbreaks.

Here’s what you need to know about norovirus.

How is norovirus spread?

According to the CDC, you can get norovirus by having direct contact with an infected person, consuming contaminated food or water, or touching contaminated surfaces, and then putting your unwashed hands in your mouth.

Hand washing is one of the most important precautions you can take, especially after using the bathroom. That’s why it’s especially common among school children, who are around other people and may not wash their hands as much or as thoroughly as adults, said Dr. Adam Berman, associate director of emergency medicine. at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

When are people most contagious?

“If you know someone else has the symptoms, stay away from them until their symptoms start to improve,” Berman said. “People are most contagious within the first 24 to 72 hours of their symptoms…that’s when they’re most likely to pass it on to other people by touching things that a another person touches.”

Does hand sanitizer work?

Hand sanitizer does not work well against norovirus, according to the CDC, which recommends washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

The CDC said people with norovirus should avoid preparing food until at least 48 hours after symptoms stop. In addition, all surfaces contaminated with vomit or diarrhea should be properly cleaned and disinfected.

If someone has bad symptoms, how do they know whether to stay home or go to the emergency room?

Norovirus can cause severe vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea, leaving people feeling weak and dehydrated. For most people, symptoms resolve within two or three days, Bulbin said. If you are able to stay hydrated, even with just water, and rest, you can probably stay home.

But if the symptoms do not improve and you are unable to retain liquids, you are too weak to do the things you normally do, and you notice a significant decrease in the ability to urinate, it might be time to see a doctor, Berman said.

But isn’t it just a stomach virus? Is it so serious?

The CDC has estimated that norovirus causes about 900 deaths each year in the United States, mostly among adults 65 and older, and 2.2 million outpatient clinic visits, mostly among young children.

Everyone should take norovirus seriously, especially those who are older and have underlying medical conditions, experts have said. These problems can get worse during a bout with norovirus.

“You could have someone who is very dehydrated and then unmasks their atrial fibrillation,” Bulbin said. “They have a fast heartbeat and now that needs to be controlled.”

Is the CDC tracking norovirus cases in the United States?

According to a CDC spokesperson, approximately 19 to 21 million illnesses associated with norovirus occur each year, but norovirus itself is typically not reported by individuals. The CDC collects data on norovirus outbreaks from state and local health departments and data on norovirus cases from clinical laboratories that report voluntarily.

Most people with norovirus are unlikely to be tested, experts said, because treatment for symptoms generally remains the same: hydration and rest.

What is the connection between norovirus and food?

Norovirus is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks caused by contaminated food in the United States, according to the CDC. Infected food workers can contaminate ready-to-eat foods, including washed raw fruits and vegetables for salads or sandwiches, baked goods, or items that have already been cooked. Norovirus is “hard to kill and remains on food, kitchen surfaces and utensils,” the agency said.

What are Shigella infections? Why did the CDC issue an alert about them?

Although symptoms can be similar to norovirus, shigellosis is an infection that causes locally acquired bacterial diarrhea associated with travel to the United States, according to the CDC. It usually causes inflammatory diarrhea and can lead to fever and abdominal cramps. The CDC is monitoring an increase in drug-resistant infections. Long Island Hospital Systems said this does not appear to be a local issue at this time.

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