Tips on avoiding the dreaded stomach bug

Winter can be a beautiful time of year, coating trees and streets with white powdery snow, but it is also the time when the dreaded stomach bug tends to spread.

Ericka Kalp, director of epidemiology and infection prevention for Summit Health, said the virus spreads several ways.

“You can get it person-to-person, you can get it by contaminated objects such as contaminated drinking cups, utensils that people are eating off of, and also through droplet spread,” she said.

Medical experts refer to this quite unpleasant illness as norovirus. There are 21 million reported cases every year in the United States, resulting in 800 deaths.

This year, medical experts are seeing a new strain of the virus.

Kalp said typically, new strains are seen circulating every two to three years. Still, there is no need to panic. This bug is very common, spreading during every winter season.  For most people, it clears up within 30-60 hours.

Still, there are a few precautions to take. For instance, a convenient spray of hand sanitizer doesn't mean you are home free. Experts say the virus isn't knocked out solely by hand sanitizer. They recommend washing your hands with soap and water first. This should not be a deterrent from using sanitizer, because it does protect from other illnesses.

Another tip is to be very careful with handling food. Norovirus is the leading cause of food bourne illness in the United States.

“You want to make sure that you have your fruits and vegetables washed thoroughly,” Kalp said.

She also said if someone in your household is exhibiting symptoms of the virus, they should not prepare food. Once someone has symptoms, she recommends washing their clothing and linens with detergent and using a hot dryer cycle.

It's also important to note that up to three days after symptoms go away, you can still be contagious.

Experts say to contact your physician if your symptoms do not go away, or are severe enough that you become dehydrated.

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