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Feeling sick with a stomach bug? You might have norovirus

Washing your hands with soap and water is more effective than using alcohol-based hand sanitizers in trying to stop the spread of norovirus, health officials say.
Washing your hands with soap and water is more effective than using alcohol-based hand sanitizers in trying to stop the spread of norovirus, health officials say. AP

A suspected norovirus outbreak at Blaine Elementary School and elsewhere in Whatcom County prompted the Health Department on Thursday to warn people about the highly contagious illness that’s been moving through the community in recent weeks.

Public health officials want to keep the illness from spreading, even as they said they expected more cases as people get together for the holidays.

Norovirus causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It spreads quickly and easily through contact with infected people, surfaces or food.

Some call it the stomach bug or the stomach flu, even though the flu is caused by a different virus.

The Health Department received reports of people with symptoms consistent with norovirus during the past couple of weeks – at a nursing home and at the Blaine school, where 115 children were absent Dec. 2 with symptoms of a gastrointestinal illness.

The elementary school has about 520 students.

Members of a basketball team also were reported ill.

No other details were available about the team or the nursing home. The Health Department worked with them as well as Blaine Elementary to stop the illness from spreading.

At the Blaine school, those who were ill were told to stay home. A lot of parents also kept students home because they didn’t want them to be exposed. And the school was disinfected, according to Greg Stern, Whatcom County health officer.

Those steps, along with classes being canceled in recent days because of snowy weather and icy roads, helped curb the spread.

“We haven’t seen ongoing high levels in the school,” Stern said.

In the United States, norovirus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis. Up to 21 million people are sickened each year, and the illness can be especially serious for the elderly and the very young, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here’s what you should do to help stop its spread, according to the Health Department:

▪  Stay home if you are sick.

▪ Don’t make food for others.

▪ Return to work, school or normal activities only after you’ve been free of symptoms for at least 48 hours.

▪ Wash hands with soap and water, which is more effective than using alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

▪ Use bleach solutions or steam cleaning to clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces.

Learn more at cdc.gov/norovirus.

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