The New Mexico Department of Health has seen an increase in clusters of gastrointestinal illness. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been increased activity seen in Bernalillo County, particularly in schools. Investigations so far suggest that the illnesses may be caused by norovirus.
Norovirus is highly contagious and causes more than 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis in the US each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastrointestinal illness and foodborne-related illness in the US The Department is recommending that everyone take precautions, especially around the very young, elderly and immunocompromised who are at risk for more serious illness due to norovirus infection. The Department does not track individual cases of norovirus.
Noroviruses cause inflammation of the stomach and intestines. It is often mistakenly referred to as the “stomach flu”. Common symptoms of norovirus infection include vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping. Less common symptoms can include low-grade fever or chills, headache, and muscle aches. Symptoms usually begin 1 or 2 days after exposure to the virus.
The virus spreads primarily through close contact with infected people, such as caring for someone who is ill. It can also spread through contaminated food, water and hard surfaces. The best ways to reduce the risk of norovirus infection are through proper hand washing, safe food handling, and good hygiene.
“Washing your hands is one of the best ways to protect yourself from viruses that are circulating,” said Department of Health Cabinet Secretary Retta Ward, MPH. “If you have norovirus infection, stay home to avoid passing it on to others and keep away from people in hospitals and long-term care facilities.”
Most people recover in one or two days and have no long-term health effects. People with norovirus should drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, which can be a concern in the very young, the elderly, or people with weakened immune systems.
To decrease the risk of getting a norovirus infection, the department recommends that you:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds
- After using the bathroom
- After changing diapers
- Before preparing foods
- Before eating
- Wash your hands more often when someone in your household is sick
- Clean and disinfect surfaces with a household bleach solution immediately after vomiting or diarrheal accidents
People working in healthcare, food service, day care or schools who become ill should remain at home for a minimum of 48 to 72 hours following the last vomiting or diarrheal episode.
Noroviruses are found in the stool (feces) or vomit of infected people. From there, noroviruses can be transferred to food, water, or surfaces by the hands of infected people who have not washed adequately after using the bathroom.