While the weather in and around Phillips County has been relatively mild this winter, there has been no shortage of illnesses such as the flu and colds to battle this season. Now, yet another virus has invaded the borders of Arkansas.
The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service reports the notorious norovirus is being blamed for infecting hundreds of students in Arkansas promoting the closure of schools in Springdale and Lincoln in northwest Arkansas last month.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health the latest version of norovirus can be traced to a strain discovered in Australia last year. Noroviruses are a group of related viruses reports the ADH Website. The viruses attack the stomach and intestines causing an illness known as gastroenteritis – frequently referred to as “food poisoning” or “stomach flu.”
Norovirus is highly contagious and is spread by close contact with infected people, picking up the germ from contaminated objects or surfaces and drinking contaminated foods or liquids. Door handles, grocery carts, elevator buttons and keyboards used in checkout lines can harbor the virus.
To prevent the spread of norovirus, follow these tips from the Centers of Disease Control:
• Wash your hands with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom and changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food. Hand sanitizers do not work on this particular virus strain. Hand washing should take at least 20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
• Do not prepare food or care for others if you are sick. Wait at least 2 to 3 days after you recover to resume these activities, or you may expose others to the virus.
• After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces by using a beach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label.
• Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. Handled soiled items carefully to avoid spread of the virus. If possible, wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash hands after handling. The items should be washed with detergent at the longest available cycle length and machine dried.
Symptoms of norovirus illness usually include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach cramping. In most instances, reports the ADH, norovirus illness is not serious and lasts 1 to 2 days. Less common symptoms include low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and general fatigue.
However, norovirus can be serious in young children, the elderly and people with other health conditions. It can lead to severe dehydration, hospitalization and even death.
One of the most serious side effects is dehydration, which may result in the loss of important nutrients and minerals lost due to vomiting and diarrhea because of the inability to drink enough fluids. Symptoms of diarrhea include a decrease in urination, a dry mouth and feeling dizzy when standing up. Children may cry with few or no tears and be unusually sleepy or fussy.
Page 2 of 2 - The best way to prevent dehydration is to drink plenty of liquids – without caffeine or alcohol.
There is no vaccine to prevent the norovirus infection and no drug to treat people infected by the disease.