PORTLAND -- Doctors say a norovirus outbreak is making dozens of people sick in the Portland area.
Norovirus is often known as the "cruise ship disease," but it can spread elsewhere, too. Doctors think Portland’s recent cold spell is adding to the problem because it’s forcing people inside closed quarters.
Norovirus is extremely contagious. It takes as few as 10 viral particles to make someone sick with norovirus and people can remain contagious for up to 10 days – even after they've stopped showing symptoms.
Providence Portland Medical Center has seen 75 cases in its emergency room just since Christmas, according to Doctor Jamie Schlueter. She said it’s also sickened a dozen ER nurses and four doctors in just the last week.
Making matters more complicated, this appears to be a new strain of norovirus.
“People that have been exposed to norovirus before might get it again, so your immune system might not completely respond,” Schlueter explained. “We have a surge about every four years.”
Symptoms of norovirus include severe nausea, cramping, diarrhea and fever. People who have it may remain sick for one to three days. Some mistake it for the flu, but a flu shot will not prevent the norovirus.
Doctors said hand-washing can help, though, along with drinking lots of water.
Noroviruses are the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year more than 20 million cases of acute gastroenteritis are caused by noroviruses. That means about one in every 15 Americans will get norovirus illness each year. Norovirus is also estimated to cause over 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths each year in the United States, according to the CDC.