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Stomach bug: What to know about the norovirus going around

Dr. Kristi Trussell

By Dr. Kristi Trussell, assistant medical director of The Urgency Room in Woodbury, Eagan and Vadnais Heights, Minn.

Just the word "norovirus" is enough to upset your stomach. This season the nasty stomach bug is worse than ever.

There was a recent news story about the more than 475 people on a single cruise ship becoming infected with the virus. Outbreaks have also been reported across the Twin Cities including schools and senior living facilities.

Ask your friends and neighbors—it is going around.

Our Urgency Room doctors are seeing patients of all ages with the virus and its most dangerous side-effect is dehydration. Patients are coming in feeling lousy and many are dehydrated and in need of IV fluids. Many patients also benefit from anti-nausea medications; some prescribed by a physician.

What's worse? The norovirus is incredibly contagious!

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not effective against the virus. Doctors at The Urgency Room are stressing the importance of washing your hands the old-fashioned way: with soap and warm/hot water.

Here are more important tips when it comes to the norovirus:

The norovirus is a very contagious pathogen that causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms appear quickly, usually within a few hours, after a person is infected.

To prevent dehydration, make sure to drink plenty of fluids. If you are having severe symptoms, drink liquids containing electrolytes such as Pedialyte, Gatorade or apple juice, diluted 50-50 with water. Excess sugar can make diarrhea worse therefore diluting juice and Gatorade is best. Your body needs some sugars if you are ill, therefore sugar-free products are not recommended.

Most people are sick for a few days and most recover without needing to see a doctor. However, some patients, especially those in high-risk groups (infants, elderly or those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes) may need to see a doctor.

Symptoms of dehydration include:

• Infrequent urinating or having very dark yellow urine

• Very dry skin, dry cracked lips or a dry mouth

• Dizziness

• Rapid heartbeat and/or breathing

• Sunken eyes

• Sleepiness, lack of energy, confusion or irritability

• Fainting

Call your doctor if:

• You notice signs of dehydration

• You're not getting better after three days

• If your vomit is green or yellow, that could be a sign of a bowel obstruction

• Bloody stools or vomit

• Severe abdominal pain

• Fevers

Sterilization is key. Make sure to wash sheets and towels in hot water and wipe down bathroom and high-traffic surfaces — door knobs, remote controls, light switches, etc. with a bleach-based cleaner. Wash hands with soap and water as hand sanitizer does not kill the norovirus.