Doctors are warning parents to be on the lookout for the ‘stomach flu’ in the coming weeks as infections rebound following years of lockdowns.
Official data shows outbreaks of norovirus have rocketed 66 percent compared to the same time last year and are rising across the country.
Experts say the virus is taking off earlier than normal, and there are also concerns that the wave could be more serious after lockdowns robbed children of vital immunity for fighting viruses off.
In serious cases, norovirus can lead to dehydration in patients and even death. Medics say the best way to avoid infection is to wash hands regularly, adding that hand sanitizers — which worked against Covid — do not work on norovirus.
It comes after the UK also raised the alarm over a potential boom of norovirus infections, which could overwhelm its already ‘fragile’ health system.
The above graph shows tracking of norovirus cases by year, with this year’s data 2022/23 shown in red. Last year’s (2021/22) is the blue dashed line, while the previous year is the blue dotted line. The average for the period before the pandemic is shown in gray. It reveals that cases of norovirus are pointing sharply upwards in the 14 states where they are monitored
Official data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that 225 norovirus outbreaks have been recorded since August, already up a third on the 172 recorded in the previous year.
In the latest week, to January 9 2023, there were about 25 outbreaks recorded. For comparison, at the same time last year there were 15 outbreaks.
Across all 14 states reporting data to the CDC cases are now rising, officials report.
These states are Alabama, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Dr Luis Ostrosky, an epidemiologist at UT Health Houston, Texas, told DailyMail.com: ‘The data we are seeing from the CDC shows early activity in norovirus, but not in really high numbers.
‘We normally don’t start to see norovirus cases rising until March, and we are seeing this now in early February.’
Asked whether the US should brace for a similar wave as with RSV and flu, he said: ‘I would be very skeptical about that.
‘This virus has a completely different epidemiology and needs different sorts of mitigation measures.’
He said at his hospital they are only seeing a handful of cases every week at present, although this may change.
Dr Albert Ko, an infectious disease physician at Yale, School of Public Health, in Connecticut, told TODAY: ‘We’ve always had seasonal increases and waves of norovirus, and our hospitals would be filled with kids.
‘What kind of took us off [that] was the pandemic.’
Concerns have been raised over norovirus because lockdowns have stopped children being exposed to good germs they need to build up a strong immune system.
This means many are at risk of infection, and may not have an immune system that is strong enough to fight the virus off.
Warning signs of dehydration in patients include a dry mouth and throat, listlessness, dizziness and increased urine output.
Experts also warn that hand sanitizer — good against Covid — is useless against norovirus.
They say that it does not destroy the virus which is resistant to alcohol, meaning there is no replacement to stopping someone catching it except for handwashing.
Norovirus can spread all year round, but cases tend to rise in the late winter driven by more social events spurred by the warming temperatures.
The virus is passed on via fecal mattar that gets onto the hands and is then transferred to other surfaces that people touch. Ingesting only a very small amount of the virus can trigger an infection.
Patients tend to suffer a mild illness lasting for about one to three days, suffering symptoms including nausea, vomiting and stomach pain or cramps.
Those most at risk of catching norovirus include young children who are yet to have built up immunity against it, those with underlying conditions and the elderly.
There are no vaccines available, with medics saying it is best to allow the infection to run its course.
A CDC spokeswoman told TODAY: ‘While norovirus cases are rising in the US, CDC data as recent as January 2023 shows that reported norovirus outbreaks are within the expected range for this time of year.’
Norovirus causes 19 to 21 million cases of vomiting and diarrhea, 109,000 hospitalizations and 900 deaths.
What is norovirus?
Norovirus, the winter vomiting bug, is a stomach bug that causes vomiting and diarrhoea.
It usually goes away in around two days.
The main symptoms are nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting. Some people also have a high temperature, a headache and aching arms and legs.
Symptoms usually start one or two days after being infected.
People can usually manage their symptoms at home. The NHS recommends drinking lots of fluids and avoiding dehydration.
The virus is spread through close contact with someone with the virus, or eating food that has been prepared by them.
It can also be passed on by touching objects that are contaminated with the virus and then touching your mouth.
Dr Simon Clarke, an Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading told Mail Online: ‘Good hand hygiene and not putting your fingers in your mouth are really important to reduce chances getting norovirus’.
He added: ‘Nobody knows whether the last person to touch a door handle or lift a petrol pump, unwittingly deposited something unpleasant which could make you sick.’
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk