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RAF LAKENHEATH, England — A public health official has advised base personnel to keep their hands clean after the military hospital here reported a higher-than average number of gastrointestinal illnesses recently.

There were 21 cases of stomach-related illnesses diagnosed in the two-day period at RAF Lakenheath’s hospital, slightly higher than the typical seven-a-day average, according to public health flight commander Lt. Col. Steven Hinten.

The increase goes hand-in-hand with the colder months that tend to cause more cases of stomach flu and influenza.

“There’s nothing going on that we believe is out of the ordinary,” Hinten said over the phone Friday. “It’s typical for the season.”

The uptick in illnesses could be the result of many things, including one of the viruses categorized under norovirus, Hinten said.

Noroviruses can cause stomach flu, or gastroenteritis. Symptoms last about a day or two and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and some stomach cramping. Infected people may also have a slight fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a feeling of tiredness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.

One of the noroviruses that often hits the U.K. this time of the year is the highly-contagious winter vomiting virus.

“We see it every year and expect it,” Dr. Carolyn Barker, an infection control doctor at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St. Edmunds. “It spreads like wildfire.”

Barker said that an infected person can easily pass on the virus to others. To avert further cases, Barker recommends those who have the short-lived illness not to come to work or enter hospitals even a few days after they stopped having symptoms.

“One still could spread the virus,” she said in a telephone interview Friday.

The virus is not life threatening, however, people will “feel very unwell” when they have it. Young children and elderly may need to be admitted to hospitals for extra care, Baker said.

There is currently no antiviral medication or vaccine to treat or prevent noroviruses. Antibiotics cannot treat the viruses either since they fight bacteria, according to the West Suffolk Hospital Web site.

Infected people who are vomiting and have diarrhea should drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, the Web site added.

The best way to fight off the stomach bug?

“Keep your hands clean [and] if you’re around somebody with a GI illness, just be more aware,” Hinten said.

Avoiding the norovirusesNoroviruses can cause stomach flu. Symptoms last about a day or two and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and some stomach cramping. Infected people may also have a slight fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a feeling of tiredness.

People can become infected with the virus in several ways, including:

Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus.Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus, and then placing their hand in their mouth.Having direct contact with another person who is infected and showing symptoms (for example, caring for someone with the illness, or sharing foods or eating utensils with someone who is ill).Persons working in day-care centers or nursing homes should pay special attention to children or residents who have norovirus illness. This virus is very contagious and can spread rapidly throughout such environments.Information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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