Doctors are warning parents to be wary of the ‘stomach flu’ in the coming weeks as infections flare up again after years of lockdowns.
Official data shows norovirus outbreaks are up 66 percent compared to the same time last year and are on the rise across the country.
Experts say the virus is rising earlier than usual, and there are also concerns the surge could be more severe after lockdowns robbed children of vital immunity to fight off viruses.
In severe cases, norovirus can lead to dehydration in patients and even death. Medics say the best way to prevent infection is to wash hands regularly, adding that hand sanitizers – which worked against Covid – don’t work on norovirus.
It comes after the UK also sounded the alarm about a possible increase in norovirus infections, which could overwhelm its already ‘fragile’ health system.
The graph above shows the tracking of norovirus cases by year, with this year’s 2022/23 data shown in red. Last year (2021/22) is the blue dotted line, while the previous year is the blue dotted line. The average over the pre-pandemic period is shown in grey. It reveals norovirus cases are pointing sharply upward in the 14 states where they are monitored
Official data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows 225 norovirus outbreaks have been recorded since August, a third more than the 172 in the previous year.
In the last week, up to January 9, 2023, about 25 outbreaks had been recorded. By comparison, there were 15 outbreaks around the same time last year.
In all 14 states that report data to the CDC, cases are now on the rise, officials report.
These states are Alabama, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Dr. Luis Ostrosky, an epidemiologist at UT Health Houston, Texas, told DailyMail.com, “The data we’re seeing from the CDC shows early activity in norovirus, but not in really high numbers.
“Normally we don’t see norovirus cases rising until March, and we are now seeing this in early February.”
When asked if the US should brace for a wave similar to RSV and flu, he said, “I would be very skeptical about that.
“This virus has a very different epidemiology and needs different types of mitigation measures.”
He said his hospital is currently only seeing a handful of cases a week, although this could change.
Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease physician at Yale, School of Public Health, in Connecticut, told TODAY, “We’ve always had seasonal surges and waves of norovirus, and our hospitals would be filled with kids.
‘What put us off [that] was the pandemic.’
Concerns have been raised about norovirus because lockdowns mean children are no longer exposed to good germs they need to build a strong immune system.
This means that many are at risk of infection and may not have an immune system strong enough to fight off the virus.
Warning signs of dehydration in patients include a dry mouth and throat, lethargy, dizziness, and increased urine output.
Experts also warn that hand sanitizer – good against Covid – is useless against norovirus.
They say it doesn’t destroy the alcohol-resistant virus, meaning there’s no substitute to prevent someone from contracting it other than hand washing.
Norovirus can spread year-round, but cases increase in late winter, driven by more social events spurred by warming temperatures.
The virus is transmitted through feces that land on hands and then spread to other surfaces that people touch. Ingesting only a very small amount of the virus can cause an infection.
Patients usually suffer from a mild illness that lasts about one to three days, with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain or cramps.
Those most at risk of contracting norovirus include young children who have not yet built up immunity to it, those with underlying conditions, and the elderly.
No vaccines are available, and doctors say it’s best to let the infection run its course.
A spokeswoman for the CDC told TODAY, “As norovirus cases rise in the U.S., CDC data from January 2023 shows that reported norovirus outbreaks are within the expected range for this time of year.”
Norovirus causes 19 to 21 million cases of vomiting and diarrhea, 109,000 hospitalizations and 900 deaths.
What is Norovirus?
Norovirus, the winter fever bug, is a stomach flu that causes vomiting and diarrhea.
It usually goes away in about two days.
The main symptoms are nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Some people also have a fever, headache, and aching arms and legs.
Symptoms usually begin one or two days after infection.
People can usually manage their symptoms at home. The NHS recommends drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding dehydration.
The virus is spread by close contact with someone who has the virus, or by eating food prepared by them.
It can also be transmitted by touching objects contaminated with the virus and then touching your mouth.
Dr. Simon Clarke, Associate Professor of Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading, told Mail Online: ‘Good hand hygiene and not putting your fingers in the mouth are very important in reducing the chance of getting norovirus’.
He added: “No one knows if the last person to touch a door handle or lift a gas pump unwittingly left behind something unpleasant that could make you sick.”