Feeling run down lately? You may be experiencing ? The Norwalk strain

Feeling run down lately? You may be experiencing ? The Norwalk strain by Jennifer Heibult Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are the all too common symptoms of what commonly is called the "stomach flu."

A unique strain of virus, however, has been taking its toll lately in Vermillion and the surrounding area.

Many people have been suffering the symptoms of the stomach flu because of the Norwalk virus, whose incidence of infection has been greater this year than in previous years.

When asked why the virus seems more prevalent this year than in recent years, Dr. Vicki Walker from the Sioux Valley Vermillion Medical Clinic and Student Health said, "the virus is episodic" � outbreaks may just depend on the year.

Outbreaks do occur largely in part because of the way the virus is spread. Max Andersen, lab manager of Sioux Valley Vermillion Care Center, said the virus is air borne and may be passed hand-to-mouth.

Areas that have been exposed to the waste or vomit of infected persons are especially susceptible to contamination, which is why the virus may frequently spread through care facilities.

These common means of infection have affected Vermillion and the surrounding area, with outbreaks occurring in elderly and day care centers and in schools.

"The Norwalk virus was in the care center and infected both residents and staff, but we were in constant contact with the (S.D.) Department of Health to control the virus," said Amy Thiesse, director of nurses at Sioux Valley Vermillion Care Center.

Superintendent Bob Mayer of the Vermillion School District said he has "seen a high rate of absenteeism recently, but that it is not excessive in comparison to recent years." He also stated that school district officials aren't certain of the types of illnesses that have kept students home.

The nature of the Norwalk virus makes it difficult for Linda Schaefer, who deals with infectious disease surveillance for the South Dakota Department of Health, to comment on specific cases.

She notes that there have been 40 reported outbreaks of the Norwalk virus in South Dakota's 114 care facilities, which include nursing homes and assisted living residences.

The Norwalk virus infection is an intestinal illness, often known to occur in outbreaks. The virus is a common cause of gastroenteritis, the inflammation of the stomach and large and small intestines.

One bitten by the Norwalk bug is usually ill from 25 to 60 hours. According to Walker,

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many people in the community who have suffered from symptoms of the virus aren't tested for it because the illness is short-term.

Walker also said that laboratory costs may serve as a deterrent for those who may otherwise be tested for the virus, again leaving many possible cases unidentified.

Although the virus is thought to have always been around, it was first identified only in 1972 after an outbreak in Norwalk, OH. Recently, high-profile outbreaks of the virus have occurred on cruise ships possibly linked to stored water on the ships.

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified contaminated water as a common source of outbreaks, as well as water from municipal supplies, wells, recreational lakes and swimming pools.

The Norwalk virus is not only transmitted through contaminated water, but also by the fecal-oral route via contaminated foods.

Besides nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, other symptoms of the Norwalk virus may include stomach cramps, headache and a low grade fever. These symptoms are often confused with the common flu caused by the influenza virus, which may be avoided by obtaining a flu shot.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine or medicine available to treat the virus, and previous infection does not serve to immunize sufferers from contracting the illness again.

"There are some preventative measures than can be taken," Walker said. "Wash hands before eating and those who prepare food should also do the same, especially when dealing with foods commonly associated with the Norwalk virus, such as shellfish, salads, fruits, cookies and sandwiches."

If exposed to the virus, Walker said the incubation period may last from 16 to 72 hours, and, according to the FDA, the best treatment is to drink plenty of fluids.

Infected persons normally recover within two or three days without suffering any long-term health effects.

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