The stomach flu, or norovirus, is on the increase in California, state Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith announced last week. Since October, 32 outbreaks have been reported that have resulted in hundreds of reports of flu, far more than at this time last year. The virus spreads quickly in closed environments like schools and hospitals, and also among restaurant workers and, thereby, customers.

The classic norovirus symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps and generally manifest 12-48 hours after exposure. Other symptoms include low-grade fever, body aches, and headache. Most become infected through direct contact with a sick person, eating or drinking items contaminated with norovirus, or touching a contaminated surface and then one’s mouth. Hand-washing with soap and running water for “at least 20 seconds” is recommended by Dr. Smith, who stated that hand sanitizers are ineffective against norovirus.

Infected individuals are highly contagious and can remain so for up to two weeks after they have recovered. Food workers should not work while they are sick and for 48 hours after they recover. More information is available at the state’s public health website.

The current flu shot may not protect against norovirus — for which treatment is generally preventing dehydration by replacing the fluids lost — but the flu vaccine is recommended by public health officials as it protects against the influenza A and B strains that are prevalent this winter. Most common presenting signs are fever, cough, sore throat, chills, fatigue, or body aches. Area pharmacies are offering the influenza vaccine, as are the Neighborhood Clinics, County Public Health, and other health-care providers.


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