PORTLAND – The recent flu outbreak has caused widespread illness across Oregon and the country. Now, the extremely contagious norovirus is also sending many Oregonians home sick.
Most who are infected with the virus recuperate at home, but doctors say Oregon hospitals have seen at least 19 likely cases so far this month. That's a high number of infected people this early in the season.
"It's very easy to transmit," said Dr. Paul Cieslak of the Oregon Health Authority. "Wash your hands really diligently."
Although norovirus symptoms can often feel like the flu, the norovirus attacks the stomach and intestines, according to Dr. Chad Lowe, primary care physician at Adventist Health.
“The norovirus is sort of like a bad stomach bug that causes intense diarrhea, nausea and vomiting,” Lowe said.
Like the flu, norovirus can also cause headache, fever and body aches.
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But if symptoms include gastrointestinal problems, doctors say to stay home.
Each year, doctors see an uptick in norovirus cases during winter months.
“We see more cases this time of year, maybe because more people are indoors,” said Johnathan Modie of Oregon Health Authority. “Small outbreaks happen all the time, particularly at nursing homes, schools, universities – anywhere where there are people gathering.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are around 20 million cases of norovirus in the U.S. each year. Thousands of people are hospitalized and between 600 and 800 die annually from the illness.
Unfortunately, if you contract norovirus, there is little doctors can do, although sick people should see relief in two to three days.
To combat norovirus, Lowe recommended drinking lots of fluids. Doctors can also prescribe medicine to help keep food down.
Lowe said those with vulnerable immune systems, including babies, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses, should seek medical attention if they catch norovirus.