Just imagine—it’s Valentine’s Day and you and your special someone are about to enjoy a nice dinner together. There’s a little music playing, soft candlelight, and you even have butterflies in your stomach….or at least, that is what you think they are until you start feeling nauseated. Well, before you panic thinking that you are repulsed by your significant other, we’re here to tell you that you may have what is going around—a new strain of the norovirus.
The norovirus, sometimes referred to as the “stomach virus,” is an inflammation of the stomach and intestinal lining, which results in severe vomiting and diarrhea in those who catch it. It is common in the winter months and can spread easily in close quarters—such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools and cruise ships—through direct contact with infected people, consuming contaminated food or drinks, and by touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching your mouth or other food items.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the new strain of the virus—called the Sydney strain, due to its origins in Sydney, Australia last year—is sweeping the globe this season. Last week, CBS News reported that the new virus had caused 140 outbreaks in the United States since September 2012:
“The new strain spread rapidly across the United States from September to December 2012,” Dr. Aron Hall an epidemiologist at the CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases, said in a statement. “The proportion of reported outbreaks caused by this strain increased dramatically from 19 percent in September to 58 percent in December.”
Despite the Sydney strain emerging as a leading cause of norovirus outbreaks this year in the United States, it is unclear whether it is more dangerous than previous strains of the virus. USA Today reports:
It’s not clear whether this strain is more likely to infect people or make them more ill than previous strains, but according to Aron Hall, an epidemiologist with the CDC’s division of viral diseases, any time a new strain emerges, it has the potential to increase disease “because people haven’t been exposed to it before, so they’re more susceptible.”
On average, the CDC reports than an estimated 21 million illnesses and 800 deaths are attributed to the norovirus annually, and it also contributes to about half of all foodborne illnesses. The foods most likely to spread the virus are: produce (like lettuce or fresh fruits), shellfish, and foods that have been prepared by sick food handlers.
Once a person is infected with the virus, there really isn’t a medicine that will cure it. They will have to ride out the symptoms, which typically last 1-3 days for adults, but children and elderly adults could see symptoms for up to six days. FoodSafety.gov advises people who are infected to drink plenty of fluids and get rest to prevent dehydration. It also advises people with the norovirus to wash their hands frequently and avoid preparing food or drinks for others to minimize the spread of the virus.
To avoid getting the norovirus, people are advised to: frequently wash their hands with soap and water, use protective clothing—like gloves or gowns—when coming in contact with others who are sick, and routinely clean and disinfect all surfaces, clothing and linens that have come in contact with a sick person. They should also clean their produce well and take other steps to ensure that their food does not come in contact with sick people or surfaces that could have become contaminated.
So, the moral of the story this Valentine’s Day is: before you share a pack of Sweethearts with your sweetie, make sure your hands are washed and the butterflies in your stomach are genuine. If you are having symptoms of the norovirus, do your honey a favor and spare him or her the romantic dinner together and go see your doctor right away. True love waits, right?