February 2, 2013

Health officials: New stomach bug seen in Georgia

Charles Oliver

— A new stomach bug that has already swept across Australia and Asia has begun to cause problems in the United States. But northwest Georgia doesn’t seem to have been hit yet.

“We have not seen any in our health district, which includes Whitfield and Murray counties,” said Jennifer King, public information officer for the North Georgia Health District.

“There have been some cases in other parts of Georgia. In November, they tested and found 12 cases. There were nine in December and four so far this month,” King said.

The bug is a new strain of what doctors call a norovirus and what most of the rest of us call the stomach flu. This new strain is called Sydney 2012 because it was first detected in Sydney, Australia, last spring. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says this strain accounts for the majority of stomach flu in the United States so far this winter.

“The main places we see it is in nursing homes and assisted living homes, in schools, and occasionally in restaurants,” King said.

The CDC reports that noroviruses cause about 21 million illnesses a year in the United States. For the vast majority of those people, it lasts about 24 to 48 hours and causes nothing more severe than vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration. But some 70,000 people a year have to be hospitalized because of the disease, and about 800 each year die from complications, mostly those who are very young or very old or who have weak immune systems.

There’s no cure for the stomach flu, but King says those who have it should drink plenty of fluids, particularly water, to keep from being dehydrated.

“The best way to avoid it is very frequent hand washing, especially after you’ve gone to the bathroom or changed a diaper or before you handle food,” King said. “And of course, try to avoid those people who have it.”

The CDC recommends that those who have a stomach virus not prepare food for others during the illness and for up to three days after they recover, and to keep sick children away from areas where food is being prepared.