According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis among children less than five year of age (who seek medical care) is an illness called Norovirus. The alert was announced following a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), which showed the illness is responsible for nearly one million documented pediatric medical care visits between 2009 and 2010 in the United States. All told, the illness costs hundreds of millions of dollars in treatment each year.
Dr. Daniel Payne, an epidemiologist in the Division of Viral Diseases at the CDC said, “Infants and young children are very susceptible to Norovirus infections, which often result in a high risk of getting dehydrated from the sudden onset of intense vomiting and severe diarrhea. Our study estimates that 1 in 278 U.S. children will be hospitalized for Norovirus illness by the time they turn 5 years of age. It is also estimated that about 1 in 14 children will visit an emergency room and 1 in 6 will receive outpatient care for Norovirus infections.” This Norovirus sounds like a horrible illness. I’m glad the folks at the CDC have a handle on it.
Originally called the Norwalk virus after the town of Norwalk, Ohio, the location of the first confirmed outbreak in 1972, Norovirus is defined by The Mayo Clinic as a virus which includes: nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and cramps, watery or loose stools, weight loss, malaise and low-grade fever. The incubation period is usually 24 to 48 hours after first exposure to the virus, and signs and symptoms usually last one to three days. However, it is worth noting that some people with the infection may show no signs or symptoms but will remain contagious and may unwittingly spread the virus to others. If you suspect you may have the virus, seek medical attention if you develop diarrhea that doesn’t abate within several days or if you experience severe vomiting, bloody stools, abdominal pain or dehydration.
The NEJM study determined that Norovirus was:
- Detected in 21 percent (278) of the 1,295 cases of acute gastroenteritis
- Rotavirus was identified in only 12 percent (152) of the cases.
- About 50 percent of the medical care visits due to Norovirus infections were among children aged 6 to 18 months.
- Infants and 1-year-old children were more likely to be hospitalized than older children.
- Overall rates of Norovirus in emergency rooms and outpatient offices were 20 to 40 times higher than hospitalization rates.
- Nationally, the researchers estimated that in 2009 and 2010, there were 14,000 hospitalizations, 281,000 emergency room visits, and 627,000 outpatient visits due to Norovirus illness in children less than 5 years of age.
- Together, hospital visits amounted to an estimated $273 million in treatment costs each year.
“Our study confirmed that medical visits for rotavirus illness have decreased,” said Dr. Payne. “Also, (it) reinforces the success of the U.S. rotavirus vaccination program and also emphasizes the value of specific interventions to protect against Norovirus illness.” There is currently no formal treatment protocol for Norovirus, other than bed rest and drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Most people recover between 24 hours to 48 hours. A Norovirus vaccine is reportedly in development. I am not usually a proponent of injections. But, in this case, it seems like a good idea…maybe as important as my rabies booster.
Unfortunately, Norovirus does not target children alone. Senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems are more prone to contracting the highly contagious infection, with more than 21 million people in the US succumbing each year. This week alone, more than 100 residents at nursing facilities in Nevada showed symptoms, and seven tested positive for Norovirus over a 41-day period.
Approximately 800 people have died so far from the disease. The virus spreads primarily through close contact with infected people, such as caring for someone who is ill and it also spreads through contaminated food, water and hard surfaces. The best ways to reduce the risk of Norovirus infection are through proper hand washing, safe food handling, and good hygiene. Is it just me or are those the same instructions the CDC gives for most illnesses? It seems like frequently washing my paws is an all-around great idea. For more information about Norovirus, visit CDC website at www.cdc.gov/Norovirus.
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