Is It the Flu or the Norovirus?

By Megan Trent

January 28, 2013 Updated Jan 28, 2013 at 8:05 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (www.incnow.tv) - Influenza has now been linked to 43 Hoosier deaths, but local doctors say a new strain of another stomach virus, the norovirus, is also on the rise.

Dr. Tom Gutwein, Medical Director at Parkview Regional Medical Center, says during the past six to eight weeks, he's seen an increasing number of patients coming into the emergency department with norovirus symptoms.

A new strain of the norovirus, the Sydney strain, has recently made its way from Australia to the U.K. and the U.S.

Influenza, says Dr. Gutwein, will typically present symptoms for 24 to 36 hours. The norovirus, however, can be symptomatic for up to five days. Sufferers can also be contagious for several weeks after symptoms disappear.

Symptoms of the norovirus include severe stomach cramping, vomiting, diarrhea and dizziness.

Like influenza, the norovirus is very contagious and is easily spread from person to person. The norovirus, however, can also be transmitted through infected food. Experts believe many cases of food poisoning can be traced to the norovirus and suggest washing fruits and vegetables carefully and making sure seafood is properly cooked.

Dr. Gutwein says the norovirus is much harder to kill than influenza. Washing hands and contaminated laundry isn't always enough to kill the norovirus, so he suggests using cleaners with bleach. Dishes also need to be thoroughly washed in extremely hot water.

Unlike influenza, there isn't a vaccine for the norovirus. If you do contract the norovirus, Dr. Gutwein says frequently drinking small amounts of liquid can help keep you hydrated, but he says it is critical to stay home from work or school while symptoms persist.

"If you're feeling light headed or dizzy or you're still throwing up and you're having a lot of diarrhea stools every 30 to 60 minutes, or even every couple of hours, you need to stay home until that subsides," says Dr. Gutwein.

It is also important to wash your hands for 30 seconds frequently after returning to work or school, since transmitting the norovirus is possible for weeks after a sufferer begins to feel better.

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