Move over, major flu outbreakÃ¢â‚¬”thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a nasty new bug in town. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a new strain of norovirus from Australia is now the leading cause of norovirus outbreaks in the country, accounting for 58 percent of infection cases in December.
Called the GII.4 Sydney, the virus causes gastroenteritisÃ¢â‚¬“an illness that attacks the stomach and intestinal tract, leaving those affected with nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea (food poisoning is another example of gastroenteritis). The CDC estimates that noroviruses cause 21 million illnesses each year, contributing to 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths in the U.S. The disease can be the most severe for young children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing health conditions.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Every few years new strains come around. As far we know, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s too early to tell if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be a worse norovirus than we see every year,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Todd Reynolds, M.D., a family medicine practitioner at Prevea Health, says.
The virus spreads quickly from person to person, especially in closed crowded places such as schools, hotels, public transit vehicles, and daycare facilities. Gross fact alert: Contamination with norovirus means that the surface or area in question has been exposed to vomit or diarrhea particles, Reynolds says. These particles donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to be obvious or hugeÃ¢â‚¬”microscropic particles left over on someoneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hands are enough to make you violently ill. Unfortunately, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no vaccine or medicine available to prevent or treat norovirus infections. On the plus side, these illnesses are short-lived, and often donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t last more than 72 hours, Reynolds says. That said, those 72 hours are sure to be miserable, and possibly life-threatening.
Even though thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no way to prevent the virus entirely, there are precautions you can take. Adopt these four practices, STAT:
Wash your hands. Seriously. Reynolds recommends spending a solid 30 seconds rinsing your hands with soap and waterÃ¢â‚¬“water above body temperature often kills more bacteria. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are useful if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re on the go. And along these linesÃ¢â‚¬”stop touching your hair and face so much! Whatever you can do to minimize the chance of exposure to this virus, the better.
Scrub all contaminated surfaces The CDC suggests using a chlorine bleach solution to rid infected areas. Wearing gloves can prevent your skin from feeling irritated and cracked, Reynolds advises. And if you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have any chlorine or bleach lying around, check out the Environmental Protection AgencyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s list for other registered disinfectants proven effective against noroviruses.
Toss contaminated clothes in the laundry Any piece of clothing you suspect has been contaminated with the virus should be cleaned ASAP. Wash them with detergent at the maximum cycle length and let them machine dry.
Wash and cook food properly While this particular norovirus doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t come from infected food, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still good practice to wash and cook your meals appropriately. Noroviruses can sometimes survive temperatures up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Your best bet is to rinse foods well and cook meals thoroughly to decrease viral particles that could be left. Throw out any suspicious foods, and keep children away from anywhere youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re prepping foodÃ¢â‚¬”kids are major culprits when it comes to spreading the virus.
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