Gut-Wrenching Virus Hits the U.S.

New norovirus stomach flu is super contagious and spreading across the nation

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) As if it weren’t bad enough that it’s flu season, a new strain of stomach virus from Australia has made its way to America, and it’s triggering a wave of gastrointestinal illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that most cases of the stomach virus reported in the US during the last four months of 2012 were attributed to a new strain of norovirus called GII.4 Sydney.

"Wash hands regularly to protect yourself."

Called GII.4 Sydney because it was first detected in that Australian city in March 2012, the new strain has been making people sick in Japan, Canada, Western Europe and other parts on the world. Now the CDC says it has made its was across the US.

Doctors have called this strain the “Ferrari of viruses” for the speed at which it is spreading among people.

In December, this particular norovirus was also blamed for making 220 people ill on the Queen Mary II during a Caribbean cruise.

Each year, norovirus causes about 21 million illnesses and contributes to about 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths, according to the CDC. It gets its name from a stomach virus outbreak that occurred in Norwalk, Ohio in the 1970s.

The illness causes inflammation of the lining of the stomach or intestines (called acute gastroenteritis). It is often called the stomach flu but it is not actually related to influenza, which is a respiratory illness.

The disease causes sudden stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. The CDC warns that this type of norovirus has been linked with increased rates of hospitalizations and deaths during outbreaks. It is especially serious for the elderly and young children.

The CDC cautions that norovirus is very easily transmitted and can infect anyone. You can catch it from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. Norovirus can live on almost any surface for up to 12 days.

The disease spreads in locations such as schools, cruise ships and nursing homes.

To protect yourself from norovirus, the CDC recommends that you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. After contact with fecal material or after contact with anyone suspected /confirmed with norovirus, be especially careful and perform appropriate hand hygiene. Also, wash fruits and vegetable carefully. Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent norovirus infection, but Ligocyte Pharmaceuticals has been developing one.

The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report was released on January 24.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 28, 2013
Last Updated:
August 19, 2013