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Stomach bug reaches Indiana; flu shot won’t help

Statement as issued Thursday by Indiana State Department of Health:

INDIANAPOLIS — Winter is the season for influenza, and as the flu season continues, State health officials want to remind Hoosiers this is also norovirus or “stomach flu” season. Norovirus is not actually influenza, however, both may be prevented by taking measures to protect yourself.

This season, health officials are reporting that a new strain of norovirus has appeared. This new strain, called GII.4 Sydney, originated in Australia and has been detected throughout Europe and the United States. This strain is overtaking others to become the dominant strain in areas where it has been found. Most people will be susceptible to this new strain; however, it does not carry worse symptoms than others.

Health officials confirm the new GII.4 Sydney strain of norovirus has reached Indiana and say they will continue to investigate outbreaks and monitor disease activity.

“With so much discussion regarding this flu season, it is important for Hoosiers to understand there is a difference between influenza and what is commonly called the stomach flu,” said State Health Commissioner William VanNess II, M.D. “Knowing the difference can help prevent both illnesses.”

Norovirus infection, also known as viral gastroenteritis, is not the flu at all but a viral infection of the intestinal tract. It is spread through eating or drinking contaminated food or drink or by close contact with an infected person.

Norovirus is more common in the late fall through winter, but infections and outbreaks can occur any time of year. This virus is very contagious and easily spread by infected people, contaminated food or drinks or touching contaminated surfaces. Norovirus can survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours. Symptoms occur about 24 to 48 hours after exposure and include sudden onset of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Other symptoms may include fever, headache and body aches. Most people recover fully within one to two days without complications.

“Flu shots do not protect against norovirus,” said Dr. VanNess. “However norovirus prevention is similar to flu prevention in the need to frequently wash hands, disinfect contaminated surfaces, wash soiled clothing and avoid preparing food if you’re not feeling well.”

Influenza, by contrast, is a viral infection of the respiratory tract. It is spread by respiratory droplets from close contact with infected persons or contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. Infection can occur when influenza viruses contact the eyes, mouth or nose, and possibly through inhaling droplets from a sneeze or cough. Sometimes people may become infected by touching surfaces or objects contaminated with influenza viruses and then touching their eyes, mouth or nose.

Signs and symptoms of norovirus (“Stomach Flu”) versus Influenza (Flu):

Norovirus (“Stomach Flu”)

• abdominal cramps

• vomiting

• nausea

• watery diarrhea

• fever (usually slight)

• headache

• fatigue

Influenza (Flu)

• fever 101 degrees Fahrenheit or greater

• headache

• fatigue

• cough

• muscle aches

• sore throat

For more information about norovirus or influenza, visit the Indiana State Department of Health at www.StateHealth.in.gov.

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