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Jefferson County Public Health Service urges norovirus prevention

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While a new strain of the norovirus isn’t yet here in Jefferson County, public health officials say now is the time to step up preventive measures.

Patricia A. Esford, Jefferson County Public Health Service supervising public health nurse, said the most important and easy preventive measure is hand washing.

“If someone in your home is sick with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, you need to pay attention to hand washing, which is especially important for food handlers,” she said.

Body aches and headaches are other symptoms.

The noroviruses, or more commonly called the stomach flu, are the most common causes of gastroenteritis in the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reports that while some norovirus symptoms may resemble influenza symptoms, the two are different because the flu is a “respiratory illness caused by influenza virus.” A new norovirus strain, which was found in Australia in 2012, has already spread to the United States.

“It’s highly contagious and has evolving strains,” Mrs. Esford said of noroviruses. “It’s a little tough to keep up with. The treatment is mainly supportive. There is no vaccine for it.”

She said noroviruses are not found in the environment or animals, just humans. Within 12 to 48 hours of being in contact with someone who has norovirus, a person may develop the group of related viruses. Symptoms may last 24 to 60 hours.

“Even as their symptoms resolve, the person can shed the virus for a while,” Mrs. Esford said.

According to the CDC, norovirus illness may lead to severe dehydration, hospitalization and death.

If anyone has norovirus symptoms, Mrs. Esford said, they should contact their primary care physician.

For more information, visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/features/norovirus.

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