(KMSP) - The Minnesota Department of Health said a new strain of Norovirus has hit the state, but the common intestinal illness that pops up every couple of years can be avoided with vigilant handwashing and food handling.
Norovirus is the most common cause of sudden intestinal illness, which could mean more norovirus illnesses this winter, state health officials warned on Tuesday. The new strain showed up in sporadic cases in Minnesota earlier this year, but the first outbreak caused by the new strain was reported last week.
Reports of norovirus-like illnesses in the community have also increased in the past week.
The new strain, GII.17 Kawasaki, caused outbreaks in Asia last winter before arriving in the U.S. State health officials have investigated more than 20 outbreaks caused by norovirus since the beginning of September.
"Every few years, a new strain of norovirus emerges and causes many illnesses. We don't know yet if this new strain will lead to an increase in the number of outbreaks reported, but it could," said Amy Saupe, a foodborne disease epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). "If we're meticulous about washing our hands and handling food properly, we may be able to limit the impact."
Norovirus can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, body aches, a general run-down feeling, and a mild fever. Symptoms typically begin 24 to 48 hours after swallowing the virus, and usually last one to two days.
How does it spread?
The virus passes from one person to another from the feces or vomit of people who are sick or were recently sick, and can make someone else sick if they get the virus in their mouth and swallow it. A tiny amount of virus can make someone sick.
"Fecal-oral transmission sounds gross, but it's important for people to understand that they may have gotten their norovirus from food, and that they could pass the virus to others by handling food, even after their symptoms are gone," Saupe said.
How do I prevent it?
The following tips from MDH officials include:
-Practice good handwashing and appropriate food handling.
-Always wash your hands well before preparing food.
-Do not prepare food for others (at home or for your job) at all if you have been sick with vomiting or diarrhea in the last three days.
-If you are sick with vomiting or diarrhea, wash your hands very carefully after using the restroom.
-Norovirus can be present in your stool for several days even after you are feeling better, so continue to be extra careful about handwashing
-Always wash your hands before eating.
-Do not eat food prepared by someone who is ill with vomiting or diarrhea.
-If someone in your household is sick with vomiting or diarrhea, have them use a separate bathroom, if possible.
-Clean surfaces with soap and water and sanitize with a bleach solution to kill any norovirus that was spread to bathroom or kitchen surfaces.
-Launder soiled clothing in hot water promptly.
-Wash your hands after helping children in the bathroom or touching surfaces that may have vomit or feces on them.
What is 'thorough handwashing?'
Thorough handwashing includes washing your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, rinsing under running water, and drying with a towel.
You can report suspected outbreaks of norovirus illness or other food-related illnesses to the MDH Foodborne Illness Hotline at 1-877-FOOD ILL (366-3455).
Visit the MDH website for more information: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/norovirus/