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Staying healthy is getting a one-two punch this winter season thanks to widespread cases of the flu followed by a fast-moving stomach bug called norovirus. First reported in Sydney, Australia, last March, this norovirus spread to Europe, then Canada and is now wreaking havoc in the U.S. The bug is especially prevalent in contained spaces like cruise ships, nursing homes and schools. The reason this bug is particularly contagious is because no one is immune to the unique combination of two strains of this year’s norovirus, but there are some ways to protect yourself and your family.

What is Norovirus?

Norovirus is a stomach bug that sets in within 10 hours of transmission and usually lasts up to three days. It is completely different from the flu in that only your stomach is affected. While most people recover completely after three days, norovirus is more serious for young children, the elderly and people with other serious health conditions. Every year 70,000 people are hospitalized and 800 deaths are caused by the virus.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of norovirus include stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea and nausea. Some people also experience a low-grade fever, headache and body ache. Because it is common to have continued vomiting and diarrhea during the three days of illness, dehydration is another concern for those affected.

How do you get it?

Norovirus is spread through direct contact with an infected person’s vomit or feces. Most commonly, unwashed hands can be attributed to spreading the virus through surfaces or food. The virus spreads quickly in enclosed spaces like cruise ships, nursing homes and schools.

What is the treatment?

Unfortunately, there are no medications to treat norovirus. Health care providers say the best thing to do is try to stay hydrated, rest and wait for the virus to run its course. People who are unable to keep fluids down may need to receive fluids intravenously.

How can you protect yourself?

Hand washing is the best defense against the norovirus, since no one is immune to the always-changing strains of the virus. However, new research has found hand sanitizers are not affective in killing the virus. Avoid direct contact with anyone who is infected and pay close attention to cleaning and preparing food. Also, anyone who is infected should not prepare food. Use disinfectants to wipe down all surfaces that have come in contact with someone who is infected. Also, launder infected clothes immediately on the longest wash cycle to help from spreading the virus.

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