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Stomach bug -- or something you ate? Regardless, it's that time of year

December 29, 2010|By Mary Forgione, Tribune Health

Stomach illnesses peak in winter -- sometimes spread from person to person, sometimes spread via food handled by a sick person. The reason doesn’t really matter, though, when you feel horrible. And, unlike the flu, there's no vaccine you can take to prevent an infection.

Beyond campylobacter, salmonella and E. coli (all bacteriums), one of the most common culprits in food-borne illnesses is norovirus, also known as viral gastroenteritis. It's more commonly called the stomach flu -- though it's not remotely related to the flu.

This story from the Allentown Morning Call reports the toll such viruses are taking in one state: "In the first three months of this year, nursing homes in Pennsylvania reported 4,040 norovirus cases — nearly twice as many as those reported in all the nine prior months combined. The data, reported this month by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, also found hospital infections peaked in the first quarter of the year, although not as dramatically as in nursing homes."

Here are symptoms from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

"Norovirus infection causes acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines); the most common symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain.

Norovirus can make people feel extremely ill and vomit or have diarrhea many times a day. Most people get better within one to two days.

Dehydration can be a problem among some people with norovirus infection, especially the very young, the elderly, and people with other illnesses."

But it pays to avoid getting sick in the first place. It's well-known that handwashing tops the list of easy insurance against bugs. Here are some other precautions.

"Take care in the kitchen (washing fruits, vegetables, etc.).
Do not prepare food while infected.
Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces. Wash laundry thoroughly."

Read the CDC's full recommendations here.

And don't share your food with someone who has been ill -- unless you want to start using up sick days.

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