The virus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea, is so common and widespread that one in six children age four or younger will be treated in clinics for norovirus, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated one in 14 children in this age group will be treated at an emergency room for the infection.
"The message that norovirus has been increasing, especially among those under age five is disturbing," said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. "Those are the ones that get sick enough to end up in the doctor's office."
Although the disease can cause short-term, but very uncomfortable, problems for people of any age, it is of extra concern among the very young, he said. "They don't tolerate getting dehydrated very well," he said.
For some of the same reasons, norovirus can be a problem with older adults. Last year, 10 outbreaks of suspected norovirus were reported in facilities that care for the elderly, such as adult family homes and nursing homes, Goldbaum said.
Norovirus is sometimes called cruise ship disease because of outbreaks that move rapidly on such ships, sickening many people.
The virus "hits people really hard and then in a couple days, it gets better," Goldbaum said.
Each year, noroviruses sickens more than 21 million people in the United Stats and approximately 800 people die, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Patients have been coming to area medical clinics with norovirus symptoms almost continuously for the past several months, said Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, who helps track communicable diseases at The Everett Clinic.
"It's not an epidemic, but there's always some level of it going around," he said.
The virus typically sickens people for two to seven days, he said, often causing only a slight fever of 99 to 100.5 degrees.
Norovirus is extremely contagious. People near a person when they become ill can easily become infected themselves, Goldbaum said.
Those who are sickened by norovirus are contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill to at least three days and as much as two weeks after they recover, according to federal health officials.
The steps to help stop its spread include careful hand washing and not sharing food or drinks with someone who is ill.
The disease was blamed with sickening 229 teens and adults who were attending a cheerleading competition at Comcast Arena in February last year. Thirty-three people sought medical care for severe vomiting and diarrhea.
Sharon Salyer@ 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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