Bah, humbug. A nasty microbiological Scrooge is making the rounds in Virginia.
Statewide surveillance data monitored by the Virginia Department of Health indicate that norovirus is arriving just in time for the holidays.
Commonly referred to as "the stomach flu," norovirus is a highly contagious gastrointestinal virus that causes vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping. Norovirus circulates throughout the year but typically increases during winter months.
The VDH keeps a close eye on disease dynamics by analyzing data received from hospital emergency departments and other health care centers, and physician offices. State Health Commissioner Cynthia C. Romero said VDH experts study the data trends to define baselines and thresholds for disease activity and make evidence based predictions when certain seasonal illnesses, like norovirus, will increase.
"Based on current data analysis," she said, "we expect to see an increase in norovirus illness and outbreaks in Virginia over the next few weeks."
Last winter season the VDH investigated 184 norovirus outbreaks statewide in a variety of settings. Because the virus can significantly impact facilities such as day care centers, prisons/jails, schools and nursing homes, local health districts work closely with those facilities to minimize the severity of outbreaks and help prevent future outbreaks.
Although norovirus can cause a great deal of discomfort, it usually goes away without requiring hospital care. Replacing lost fluids is key to preventing dehydration, particularly in children and the elderly.
"It is the time of year when families and friends are coming together to celebrate the holidays," said Romero. "Norovirus is a sure way to dampen the holiday spirit, so being mindful of simple things like washing your hands or staying home if you are sick is especially important now."
Because norovirus is so infectious and can survive on surfaces for prolonged periods, it is important to take steps to limit the spread of the virus including washing hands often with warm water and soap, disinfecting contaminated surfaces with bleach based household cleaners, washing soiled clothing and linens with hot water and detergent, and staying at home and not preparing food for others when sick.
For more details about preventing norovirus visit http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/preventing-infection.html.