By now, most Mammoth Lakes residents probably know someone who has recently been through the latest winter affliction to hit the area, the “norovirus,” sometimes called the winter vomiting disease and/or food poisoning.
It is not dangerous, most of the time, but it is a particularly nasty stomach virus most common in the winter when people are stuck together in small, enclosed spaces for long periods of time.
It is miserable, it is contagious, there is no cure nor vaccine, and unless you are living in an almost inhumanly clean environment, it is all too easy to get, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in every 15 Americans will get norovirus illness each year.
Symptoms begin with an upset stomach and move rapidly to cramping, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea that can be intense and last for as long as 36 hours, according to the CDC.
It is sometimes, although not always, accompanied by a low-grade fever, fatigue, muscle aches and other similar symptoms.
Some people mistake it for the flu, but according to Dr. Rick Johnson, the public health official for Mono and Inyo counties, there is no relationship between the flu and the norovirus.
“The flu is primarily a respiratory disease, not a gastrointestinal disease, like the norovirus,” he said.
Another common name is “food poisoning,” but the CDC says that is not exactly right, either.
“You may hear norovirus illness called ‘food poisoning’ or ‘stomach flu,’” the CDC writes on its website. “It is true that food poisoning can be caused by noroviruses. But, other germs and chemicals can also cause food poisoning.”
“Norovirus is all about people in congregate settings,” Johnson said. “That’s why you hear about it on cruise ships, in nursing homes, and in prisons. But why doesn’t the Navy have severe outbreaks on ships at sea on deployment with thousands of sailors living in close quarters for months at a time? They are scrupulous about cleaning, and quickly isolating anyone who is sick. Besides, no one gets on or off the ship, so people are not bringing new bugs into this closed environment all the time like what happens here.
“Like any other disease, one of us has to go somewhere and bring it back, or visitors bring it here. There is nothing particular to our environment that makes it more or less of a risk here.
“So, wash your hands frequently, and stay out of circulation if you are sick!”
How do I get it?
How do I avoid it?
Source: Center for Disease Control