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State numbers show a slow start to winter stomach bug

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 07. 2017 7:12PM

Stomach bug blues?
If it strikes:

• Stay home

• Don't prepare, serve food to others

• Consume clear liquids

• Practice good hygiene

• Do not care for others who are sick

• Clean up with bleach

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The mild winter has meant less shoveling, fewer warm layers and something else — fewer outbreaks of the dreaded winter stomach bug.

Beth Daly, chief of the state’s Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, said there’s been only 15 reported outbreaks of norovirus illness since December. The norovirus season usually runs from December until March and produces approximately 70 outbreaks, Daly said.

While the numbers seem to be lower than usual, Daly said it’s too soon to predict if this season will be an easier one on Granite Staters’ bellies.

“It’s definitely out there circulating,” Daly said.

And the norovirus is very easy to circulate. Daly said it only takes 10 tiny particles of the virus to infect another person and cause severe gastroenteritis. People with norovirus illness shed billions of virus particles in their stool and vomit, and are contagious from the minute they feel sick until a few days after they recover, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“Once it’s released in a school, it usually spreads like wildfire,” Daly said

Norovirus causes gastroenteritis with symptoms no one wants to be reminded of — violent bouts of vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and a fever. It strikes within 12 to 24 hours of being exposed to the virus and usually lasts from one to three days, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Not only is the norovirus potent in small doses, it also has the ability to live on surfaces for up to two weeks. Daly said this is why it’s important to practice good hand-washing habits and break out the bleach to clean up after someone in your house has been infected.

She also said if you catch it, stay home.

“It takes one person reported as being sick and then it just spreads very quickly,” Daly said.

And once you get it, it doesn’t mean you’re immune from getting it again.

“If you’re unlucky enough to get this, you’re usually protected for a few weeks and then you can get it again,” Daly said.

Each year, norovirus causes between 19 and 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s also responsible for between 56,000 and 71,000 hospitalizations and between 570 and 800 deaths across the country, the agency reports.

Daly said the state records outbreaks as they come in from facilities such as hospitals, schools, prisons and nursing homes. She said an outbreak is defined as an uptick in the number of reported cases at a facility.

She said these outbreaks are usually seen in more populated areas of the state, such as Rockingham County where there have been recent outbreaks.