Norovirus Update: Stomach Flu Outbreak Continues

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Science is developing a vaccine for the norovirus. Image courtesy U.S. CDC/Charles D. Humphrey, PhD

Science is developing a vaccine for the norovirus. Image courtesy U.S. CDC/Charles D. Humphrey, PhD

The norovirus is still active here in the United States. Also known as the stomach flu, this virus is relentless and it can infect anyone.

By drinking contaminated water or food, or by touching contaminated surfaces, you can get sick – and once you’re sick, you’re miserable.

Norovirus symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain – the stomach bug is responsible for 19-21 million cases every year in the United States and 56,000 – 71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths each year.

Norovirus in the Schools

When the norovirus hits, it hits hard and fast. In Alexandria, Virginia classes were canceled on Friday, March 14, 2014 at John Adams Elementary School after 200 students and 30 staff members came down with the norovirus in just two days!

According to their local ABC 7 News channel, the school has hired a professional company to disinfect the school. The disinfecting will take place starting on Friday and last through the weekend so that classes can resume on Monday.

Another local news station, ABC 11, reports there has been an outbreak of the nororvirus in Asheville High School and at Issac Dickson Elementary school in Asheville, North Carolina.  More than 160 students from the high school were absent or left school early on Tuesday, March 11, 2014.  More than 140 students were sick at Issac Dickson Elementary School, where testing confirmed that the cause is the norovirus. Workers are wiping down all city schools with a bleach-based solution to hopefully stop the spread of the virus.

Stomach Flu in the Community

The norovirus isn’t just affecting schools across the United States, but in Boise, Idaho The Veterans Affairs Medical Center is under quarantine after several people become ill with the norovirus.

According to local news, 7KTVB, nine people in the Boise VAMC have the norovirus. One person began showing signs of the illness on Friday, March 7, 2104 and visitors were asked to stay away from the extended care facility unless absolutely necessary to prevent the spread of this highly contagious virus.

In Minneapolis, four residents of the state veterans home died and more than a dozen staff called in sick all due to the norovirus, reports UPI.

In White City, Oregon at the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics, more than 200 patients and staff were sick and 17 people were treated at hospitals for dehydration due to stomach flu.

Antiviral Drugs and Vaccines

Unlike the seasonal influenza, there’s no approved vaccine for the norovirus; with thousands of people getting sick every year, a vaccine sounds like a good idea! Well, you maybe in luck in the near future. There are several groups of scientists and researchers who are working on a vaccine or treatment for the norovirus.

At Kansas State University, Dr. Kyeong-Ok Chang, associate professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology leads a team of researchers as they develop an antiviral drug to help prevent and treat the norovirus.

At the University of Cincinnati, Dr. David Bernstein, an infectious disease physician enrolled 98 healthy adults into a norovirus vaccine trial. Although those who received the vaccine still got sick when exposed to the norovirus, they were less sick than those who were unvaccinated.

Stomach Flu and You

The norovirus is highly contagious and can leave you pretty sick for a few days – but most people recover without the need of hospitalization. Science is developing antiviral drugs to help prevent and treat the norovirus, and vaccine research continues to develop an effective and safe vaccine for the norovirus.

This begs the question, particularly due to the growing anti-vaccination movement: If science developed a stomach flu vaccine, would you take it?

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