Nebraska and Douglas County have seen an increase this spring in cases of norovirus, a common and very contagious gastrointestinal illness. Health officials are urging residents to take extra precautions to avoid getting sick.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services alerted health care providers to the increase on Monday. At the time, state health officials had reported 14 suspected or confirmed norovirus outbreaks at long-term care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, child care centers and schools. The norovirus season usually peaks from December to March and begins to decline in April.
By Friday, Douglas County health officials had investigated five outbreaks of the illness at long-term care facilities and child care centers. Health officials have counted 82 cases in the county so far this year, compared with 45 last year at this time.
While norovirus is rarely fatal, it can be very hard on the very young and the very old, said Douglas County Health Director Adi Pour.
Symptoms of norovirus, often mistakenly referred to as “stomach flu,” include violent vomiting and diarrhea, nausea and stomach pain, which often come on rapidly. Body aches may accompany the illness, which usually appears 12 to 36 hours after exposure to the virus.
Dehydration is one of the main concerns posed by the virus. People typically recover from norovirus in two or three days. People who are ill should stay home for two days after symptoms appear.
The best way to prevent norovirus is to carefully wash hands with soap and water, especially before handling food and after changing diapers or using the restroom.
Avoid preparing food for others when you are sick, and wash laundry thoroughly, especially if it may be contaminated with vomit or feces. Surfaces may be contaminated and may need to be sanitized to avoid spreading norovirus. Bleach-based disinfectants are recommended for cleanup.