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“Norovirus Outbreak Spreading in Northeast, Reaches New Jersey”

Norovirus Outbreak Spreading in Northeast, Reaches New Jersey

A highly contagious stomach virus known as norovirus has been rapidly spreading throughout the Northeast since November, and it has now reached New Jersey. While cases of norovirus have been reported across the country, the Northeast region has been hit the hardest, with the highest positivity rate since the start of 2024, according to the CDC.

Recently, Irving Primary School in Middlesex County had to close for a day to conduct a deep cleaning due to a gastrointestinal outbreak. The virus seems to be gaining traction in South Jersey as well, with doctors at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia treating several patients with the virus and cases being identified in Camden County.

Despite the increasing number of cases, health experts assure that the current norovirus outbreak is not more severe than previous ones. Dr. Cristopher Freer, a Hospitalist and Emergency Medicine physician at RWJBarnabas Health, explains that outbreaks like this occur frequently and do not require any drastic changes in staffing or practices in emergency departments.

Understanding Norovirus

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that affects the stomach and intestines. Although it is commonly referred to as the stomach bug or stomach flu, it is not a parasite and is not related to respiratory flu. This virus is quite common, causing nearly 20 million cases of vomiting and diarrhea and over 100,000 hospitalizations in the U.S. each year, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Norovirus infections tend to peak during the colder months of the year.

How Does Norovirus Spread?

Norovirus can be contracted through various means. Dr. Freer explains that the virus primarily spreads through our hands. Once it attaches to our hands, it can enter our system when we touch our mouth, eyes, or anything that goes into our mouths, such as food or straws. Contact with an infected person, contaminated food or water, and touching contaminated surfaces also increases the risk of contagion. Norovirus can even be transmitted through the sharing of drinks and kissing.

Dr. Freer advises against consuming raw seafood as the virus often originates from sea animals. Additionally, norovirus can be found in feces, so proper handwashing after using the bathroom or changing diapers is crucial to prevent contagion.

Common Symptoms and Prevention

The most common symptoms of norovirus include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach cramping. To prevent infection, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases recommends frequent and thorough handwashing, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers, eating, or handling food. It is also important to wash fruits and vegetables, cook shellfish thoroughly, and clean and disinfect areas where someone has vomited or used the bathroom.

Dr. Freer emphasizes that norovirus can be transmitted through saliva, so kissing and sharing drinks can lead to transmission. However, wearing a mask is not considered a preventative measure as the virus is not commonly transmitted through tiny saliva droplets expelled during talking.

Treating Norovirus

Dr. Freer provides recommendations for treating norovirus symptoms. He advises adults to drink four to six 12-ounce cups of water daily, preferably mixed with electrolyte-rich drinks like Gatorade. For pediatric patients, he suggests giving them 2 ounces of water periodically throughout the day to avoid inducing vomiting. Consuming saltine crackers or other sodium-rich crackers can also aid in recovery.

It is important to monitor the balance between fluid intake and expulsion through vomiting or diarrhea. If a person is losing more liquid than they are taking in and is unable to drink water without vomiting, severe dehydration may occur, requiring medical attention.

Vaccine Development and Testing

Currently, there is no approved vaccine for norovirus. However, promising research trials have been conducted recently. Vaxart, a biotechnology company, has been testing an oral pill to prevent norovirus. Trials on lactating mothers were conducted in November, but the pill has not yet completed all necessary trials.

Diagnosing Norovirus

Norovirus infection is typically diagnosed based on symptoms, but it can also be identified through a stool sample test. Physicians may recommend a norovirus test for individuals with medical complications.

Duration of Norovirus

Typically, norovirus symptoms last for 1 to 3 days. However, even after symptoms fade, a person can remain contagious for more than two weeks.

As the norovirus outbreak continues to spread in the Northeast and reaches New Jersey, it is crucial to practice proper hygiene, such as frequent handwashing and disinfection, to prevent further transmission. Stay vigilant and take necessary precautions to stay healthy during this time.


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