Health officials with Southeastern Idaho Public Health report seeing an unusual number of cases of the gastrointestinal illness, norovirus in the region around Pocatello and Fort Hall since the beginning of the year, prompting officials to ask the public to take precautions if they are sick.
Southeast Idaho health officials say there has been nine confirmed cases of norovirus identified in Southeast Idaho since Jan. 1. This number surpasses the total annual number of confirmed cases in both 2013 and 2014. While there were nine confirmed cases, Ian Troester-Solbrig, a registered nurse and epidemiologist for Southeastern Idaho Public Health, said he has treated some 50 people suffering from norovirus-like symptoms this year.
In addition, at least one person recently died from dehydration, a complication of the viral disease.
Norovirus is a highly contagious viral illness that often goes by other names, such as viral gastroenteritis, stomach flu, and food poisoning.
The symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and some stomach cramping. Sometimes people additionally have a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a general sense of tiredness. The illness often begins suddenly, and the infected person may feel very sick. In most people, the illness is self-limiting with symptoms lasting for about 1 or 2 days. In general, children experience more vomiting than adults do.
Norovirus is spread person to person particularly in crowded, closed places. Norovirus is typically spread through contaminated food and water, touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth and close contact with someone who is vomiting or has diarrhea.
“If you’re sick drink fluids and eat. If you are having a hard time keeping that stuff down I would go into a doctor’s office,” said Troester-Solbrig. “The most important message we want to tell people is just to stay home if you’re sick.”
Norovirus causes more than 20 million illnesses annually and it is the leading cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks in the United States. Each year it contributes to 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths.