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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — When thinking about winter illness, the flu is the first thing that comes to mind for many.

However, in recent years a new bad guy has slipped into town: norovirus.

The virus is known for striking cruise ships, hospitals and nursing homes.

Its most common symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. They typically last one to three days.

Cases are common throughout the world, including on military bases in the Pacific.

The virus gained notoriety recently after high-profile outbreaks in the United Kingdom and parts of the United States.

Though norovirus generally is not life-threatening to adults, it should be taken seriously because it causes dehydration, which is dangerous for children and the elderly, explained Capt. Robert Bailey, the health care integrator and case manager at Yokota’s base hospital.

Health care providers at Yokota reported 16 cases of the virus in servicemembers and 15 in children between Dec. 28 and Jan. 8, Bailey said.

Although those numbers are an increase from previous years, Bailey said, the actual number of cases on base might be greater because some people probably did not seek medical treatment.

Local Japanese hospitals also have seen an increase in norovirus cases, he said, adding that a Tachikawa hospital has reported more than 3,000 cases in the past four weeks.

Norovirus is normally spread person to person or by consuming food or drink contaminated with the feces of a norovirus-infected person, Bailey said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site, the virus can withstand temperatures up to 140 degrees, as well as freezing, and can survive in chlorine-treated water.

“Despite these features, it is likely that relatively simple measures, such as correct handling of cold foods, strict hand-washing after using the bathroom and before handling food items, and (taking) sick leave, may substantially reduce food-borne transmission of noroviruses,” the Web site states.

Bailey also recommends using a humidifier, because the virus thrives in dry areas.

“In the wintertime, we turn on the heat, and the hot air can dry out a room, which noroviruses love,” he said.

However, as easily as the virus is spread and as threatening as all of the information can sound, people shouldn’t panic about getting sick, Bailey said.

“It is still just your normal run-of-the-mill virus,” he said. “It just makes you sick for a few days.”

Tips to avoid the norovirus

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after toilet visits and changing diapers and before eating or preparing food, drinking, smoking or otherwise touching your mouth.Wipe down common-touch items and areas such as staplers, mousepads, keyboards and doorknobs with a mixture of bleach and water or a bleach-based cleaner.Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and steam oysters before eating them.Use a humidifier in dry areas. If you are sick, stay away from other people.Avoid social gatherings, stay home from work, and do not prepare food for others.Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner.Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with the virus after an episode of illness. (Use hot water and soap.)Flush or discard any vomit or stool in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is kept clean.If symptoms last more than three days, seek medical attention; they could be signs of something else.For more information, go to www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/revb/gastro/norovirus.htm

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Yokota Hospital


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