Stomach bug? It's probably not the flu; norovirus is in town

Stomach bug? It's probably not the flu; norovirus is in town

CHAMPAIGN — That stomach bug that's going around isn't the flu.

It's norovirus, and it's very contagious, state health officials warn.

Norovirus causes vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. It can also come with low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle ache and fatigue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 20 million Americans — one in 15 — come down with norovirus each year, and more than 80 percent of those people get sick with it between November and April.

People may not know this gastrointestinal bug is norovirus, but it's around in the area, Champaign-Urbana Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde said.

The worst symptoms last about two days, but it's going to take a few more days after that to feel OK again, she said.

"You definitely don't have to look very far on Facebook to hear people complaining about it," she said.

People with norovirus are most contagious while they're sick and during the first three days after they recover, according to the CDC.

Pryde said norovirus is so contagious, once someone at your home gets it, it's hard to keep it from spreading. When she had it herself, she refrained from cooking for a few days for safety's sake, she said.

"Nobody else in my house got it, knock on wood," she said.

Carle spokeswoman Kelli Anderson said Carle hasn't seen a "notable prevalence" of norovirus-like illness in patients coming to its convenience care centers.

"We do encourage the community to continue following basic precautionary measures such as washing your hands frequently to help avoid becoming ill and to prevent the spread of stomach illnesses," she said in a written response to a News-Gazette inquiry.

Norovirus spreads directly from person to person, or through touching contaminated surfaces and then putting hands or fingers in the mouth. There isn't a vaccine or treatment, but thorough hand-washing with soap and water is the best prevention, health experts say.

Another tip from Pryde: Be sure to sanitize areas people touch in the bathroom after someone vomits, because small particles fly around that spread germs, she said.

The CDC also advises:

— An alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used to reduce germs if soap and water aren't available or in addition to hand washing, but it's not a substitute for good hand-washing.

— Hand-washing is especially important after a trip to the bathroom and before eating or preparing food.

— Contaminated surfaces should be disinfected with a bleach-based cleanser. (Or use a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water, the state Department of Public Health recommends.)

— If you're ill and work as a food handler, stay home.