Thursday, January 10, 2013


There are large ongoing outbreaks of "stomach flu" in several parts of the world, including in the U.S. This is usual for the winter season, but the current ones are worse than usual.

The most common cause of "stomach flu" is norovirus (also known as "the cruise ship virus " because it often turns up there so often). This year, to add to our woes, there is apparently a new strain of norovirus going around. It reportedly originated in Australia. That's why it is being called "Sydney 2012." Thank you, Down Under!

In California, where I live, this outbreak promises to be as bad or worse than the one in 2007 when even San Quentin State Prison had to close to new prisoners and visitors because some 500 inmates and guards fell ill, emergency rooms were jam packed, and college and pro athletes missed games.

So what does this have to do with food? Contaminated food and water - as well as touching contaminated surfaces, and aearosolized vomit, can be vehicles for illness (often it hops from one to the other). And believe me, this virus is very contagious. And, hardy. It can survive in the freezer and withstand heat up to 140 degrees F. That could mean that if an infected restaurant worker handled your food, you would be very likely to become ill. And you, in turn, could infect other people with whom you come into contact.

So here is what you need to know (courtesy of information and advice from the CDC.

The incubation period associated with norovirus is 12-48 hours - usually around 33 hours.

The symptoms are usually: sudden onset of vomiting (it can be "projectile" and you can vomit up to 20 times a day), diarrhea (which van be very, very bad, but not bloody), stomach cramps and nausea. Some people also have headaches, body aches and low fever.

The cure: There really isn't any medicine that will cure it. Antibiotics do not work on viruses. Just keep hydrated - and, close to a bathroom! Force yourself to take small sips of water all the time, even if you feel like throwing it up. This is especially important for children and older people.

Your responsibility: make sure you don't spread it. This virus can survive for days on surfaces, and even disinfecting them may not work 100%. But it helps, so disinfect anyway - all surfaces, with a bleach and water solution (1:10 is often recommended). And yes, wash your hands continually (don't rely on alcohol-based gels, although you can use them after you wash your hands first). Remember too, that if you have been ill, you can still shed the virus for a couple of weeks, or even more, afterwards.

So any good news? Yes, you feel like death, but at least it will be over quickly - some 1-3 days. Keep counting the hours!

To your good health,


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