Highly contagious norovirus is spiking in Douglas County

photo by: Kevin Anderson/Journal-World File Photo

The Lawrence-Douglas County health department's home at the Community Health Facility, 200 Maine St., is pictured in this file photo from July 2010.

Cases of the highly contagious norovirus are spiking in Douglas County’s wastewater.

Dee Kinard, informatics manager with Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, spoke with the Journal-World Friday morning about the surge in cases and how community members can prevent spreading the virus.

This isn’t a new phenomenon for Douglas County or the rest of the country, though. Kinard told the Journal-World there’s a norovirus season every year, usually coinciding with the influenza season, and neighboring counties and communities across the country are dealing with a similar surge in cases right now.

“It’s not that Douglas County or Lawrence has experienced something totally different than other areas,” Kinard told the Journal-World. “I think that’s important to say, that we’re not real different than other areas of the country or of Kansas. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t pay attention and that we’re not mindful.”

In Douglas County, wastewater detection peaked in January. Kinard said though numbers have been decreasing since then, the presence of the virus can still be considered high as of the beginning of March.

Kinard said norovirus can be spread by touching surfaces where the virus is present or when taking care of someone who has it. The main symptoms of norovirus include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Kinard said the virus usually causes people to feel pretty sick for one to three days, but it can still be contagious even after someone who’s sick begins to feel those symptoms wane. It usually doesn’t lead to many hospitalizations, she added.

The virus can affect anyone no matter their age, but one complication — dehydration, caused by frequent vomiting and diarrhea — most often affects kids and the elderly. Kinard said it’s important for even those who aren’t sick to stay hydrated during the norovirus season.

“As you can imagine, if you’re vomiting a lot or having a lot of diarrhea, you can get dehydrated,” Kinard said. “… If that happens, someone might need to get IV fluids, but most people can just manage this at home by pushing fluids.”

While there isn’t a norovirus vaccine, there is one easy way to stop its spread: frequent hand washing. Kinard recommended doing so before eating or cooking and after going to the restroom or changing diapers. It’s also a good idea to do so before giving yourself or anyone else medicine.

In fact, Kinard said diligent hand washing is just about the only way to protect against norovirus.

“When I look at these high levels of norovirus, what it says to me is to be mindful,” Kinard said. “Be mindful about washing my hands. People should be very mindful about washing their hands.”

Kinard added that disinfecting is another preventative step to take for households where someone has contracted norovirus. She said that extends to washing clothes and surfaces in restrooms and kitchens. Staying home while sick, if possible, can also stop the spread.

That’s especially important since people who have been sick with the virus before can easily catch it again. Kinard said that’s because unlike other infections, people don’t develop a natural immunity to norovirus.

“It’s a virus that’s really good at making us sick, so you don’t need very much of a norovirus to get sick,” Kinard said. “It’s got a fairly short incubation period, it stays in the environment, it’s really stable in the environment. … People don’t need to be afraid, but it’s a nasty little bug.”


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