While the country is locked in its annual battle against influenza, a second “bug” is creeping up and taking its toll on schools and workplaces, as well. Like the flu, norovirus picks up steam in the winter months and is especially hard—sometimes deadly—on seniors and young children. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts February will be the peak month for infection, which is characterized by intense gastrological symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Highly contagious, it’s common for the virus to spread quickly among people kept in close quarters such as offices, classrooms, and dormitories during the colder winter months. Urgent care clinicians who see patients with symptoms indicative of norovirus should stress the importance of staying away from work or school while symptomatic and of taking in extra fluids to ward off dehydration. Typically, patients are off their feet for 1 to 3 days. Unlike the flu, there’s no vaccine against norovirus at this time. The best prevention is to maintain hygiene by washing hands regularly, wiping down surfaces that are touched frequently by a large number of people (eg, door knobs and toilet handles), and keeping your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth. The CDC says norovirus causes 19–21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis annually, leading to 1.7–1.9 million outpatient visits and 400,000 emergency department visits, primarily in young children. As many as 71,000 are hospitalized. Norovirus is blamed for 570–800 deaths annually.
February is Shaping Up to Be ‘Norovirus Month’