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New gastointestinal infection reaches the U.S.

February 03, 2013

  • Cada año, los norovirus causan unos 21 millones de infecciones y 800 muertos, según los Centros para el Control y Prevención de Enfermedades de EEUU.
    Each year, noroviruses causes about 21 million infections and 800 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

NEW YORK - (AP) A new strain of the stomach infection that has spread throughout the world is plaguing the United States, warned public health authorities.

Since September, more than 140 outbreaks in the U.S. have been caused by the new strain of norovirus Sydney. The new strain may not unusually be dangerous and some scientists believe so. But it is different, and many victims may not be able to resist its effects.

However, it is having an impact. The new strain has sickened people in Japan, Western Europe and elsewhere. It was identified last year in Australia and is known as the Sydney strain.

In the United States, it represents 60% of norovirus outbreaks, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Norovirus - formerly known as Norwalk virus - is highly contagious and often spreads in schools, nurseries and cruise ships. The strain was attributed to an outbreak on the ship Queen Mary II last month during a Caribbean cruise.

The virus causes vomiting and diarrhea for several days.

Every two or three years a new strain develops. The previous one was in 2009. The Sydney strain has coincided with an increase in flu cases.

Ian Goodfellow, a prominent researcher at the University of Cambridge in England, qualifies norovirus as "the Ferrari of the virus" because of the speed at which it spreads through a large group of people.

"It can spread very, very quickly. One can feel great and in a few hours time suffer of continuous vomiting and diarrhea," he added.

Health authorities have perfected the methods to detect new strains and determine which one is at fault. Now they know that the norovirus is also the most common cause of food poisoning in the United States.

It spreads through cooks or food handlers who do not wash their hands after using the bathroom. But unlike salmonella and other foodborne illnesses, norovirus can also spread through the air by droplets from a sick person who vomits.

"It's a headache" to try to control it, said Dr. John Crane, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Buffalo who a couple of years ago had to deal with an outbreak of norovirus in a hospital ward.

Each year, noroviruses causes about 21 million infections and 800 deaths, the Centers said.

For the infected there is no specific remedy. They should tough it out for a day or two of the more severe symptoms and take precautions against dehydration, experts say.

Stop the Spread

To prevent the spread of norovirus, follow these tips from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Practice proper hand hygiene: Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before eating or preparing food. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Practice preventive measures in the kitchen: Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly and cook oysters and other shellfish before eating.

Do not prepare food when you have the infection: Sick people with norovirus should not prepare food for others while experiencing symptoms and for 3 days after they recover from the disease.

Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces: After an episode of vomiting or diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces with household cleaners with chlorine, as directed by the label. If you do not have that kind of product, you can prepare a bleach solution by adding from 5 tablespoons to 1.5 cups of household bleach per gallon of water.

Wash clothing: Remove all clothing and bedding that has been contaminated with vomit or stool and wash immediately. Carefully handle dirty clothes, without shaking, to prevent the spread of the viruses. Use rubber gloves, if you have them, as you handle clothes and bed linens and wash your hands afterwards. These clothes and bedding should be washed with detergent in the maximum wash cycle of the washing machine and should be dried in the dryer.

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