The Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center is encouraging residents to practice health measures to avoid viral acute gastroenteritis, often caused by norovirus. This virus, which affects the stomach and the intestines, is most common during the winter months. In January 2012, nine outbreaks have been reported in Lake County, including eight outbreaks in long term care facilities and one in a day care facility. There were 16 similar outbreaks in 2011, 25 in 2010, and 16 in 2009.
"Noroviruses can make a person very ill," said Irene Pierce, the Health Department's Executive Director. "They are very contagious and can spread quickly in families and places where people are in close contact with each other, such as schools, childcare centers, long-term care facilities, and cruise ships."
The virus causes gastroenteritis and is often called "stomach flu," or "food poisoning." Symptoms include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Muscle aches
Symptoms usually last only a few days, but are often severe.People generally spread the virus while they are experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, especially from the moment they begin feeling ill to at least three days after symptoms end. The virus then can be found in the stool for 2-3 weeks. People can become infected by:
- Consuming contaminated food or beverages
- Touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then putting their hands in their mouth
- Direct contact with a person who is infected and showing symptoms, such as caring for someone with the illness, or sharing foods or eating utensils with someone who is ill.
To protect yourself against this virus, the Health Department encourages following these preventive steps:
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers, before eating and before preparing food.
- Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and steam oysters before eating them.
- Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner.
- Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with the virus after an episode of illness (use soap and hot water).
- Flush or discard any vomit and/or stool in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is kept clean.
Persons who are infected with norovirus should not prepare food while they have symptoms. They should continue to avoid preparing food until three days after they recover from their illness. Food that may have been contaminated by an ill person should be disposed of properly.
It is important that people do not confuse the "stomach flu" with influenza "flu," which is a respiratory illness. Influenza is also most prevalent in winter months.
If you would like additional information on norovirus, please call the Health Department's Communicable Disease Program at: (847) 377-8130, or visit: http://www.lakecountyil.gov/Health/want/Pages/CD.aspx.
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