Doctors concerned about spread of stomach flu

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OKLAHOMA CITY—While much of the country is dealing with a record number of flu cases, doctors are warning Oklahomans to watch out for another virus that could make you very sick.

Norovirus, also called the stomach flu, is a highly contagious virus that can cause intense cramping, vomiting and diarrhea.

Those symptoms can then lead to serious dehydration.

Stephen Prescott, M.D., president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, said, “Much like the influenza virus, the norovirus mutates as it spreads.”

Doctors say this new strain could account for an increase in cases this year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States, causing about 21 million illnesses annually.

Worldwide about 70,000 people are hospitalized, leading to 800 deaths.

Prescott said, “Norovirus begins like most viruses, you inhale it or eat it or rub it into your eyes without even knowing. Once it’s in the system, the virus moves to your small intestine and hijack cells, forcing them to replicate the virus.”

When the immune system catches on, the symptoms begin.

Even though the symptoms only last three or four days, a person can still transmit the norovirus for around 48 hours after everything stops.

Experts say there are a few simple steps to stay healthy.

  • Sick people should not prepare food or care for others because the virus can still be passed on.
  • Wash hands frequently with hot, soapy water and use hand sanitizer often.
  • Clean and disinfect all surfaces, especially in the bathroom and kitchen with a chlorine bleach solution of five or more tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water.
  • Wash produce and thoroughly cook shellfish.
  • Wash laundry thoroughly and wear rubber gloves to hand soiled items, then wash your hands immediately afterward.