WASHINGTON – You don’t have to travel to distant lands to get a stomach bug on vacation.
The most recent example is a norovirus outbreak at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks that has sickened about 200 park visitors and employees
The symptoms are diarrhea and vomiting, and some people also get the fever and body aches usually associated with influenza.
But this is not the flu, which is caused by an airborne virus. Instead, the norovirus is usually spread by hand to hand contact, or by eating food handled by someone who is already infected.
Dr. Terry Jodrie, an emergency room physician at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, says it can be very contagious.
“It spreads like wildfire but it has a tendency to spread like wildfire in contained spaces like cruise ships, overnight camps,” he says.
He says the best defense is vigorous handwashing. Hand sanitizers are helpful, but a long scrub with soap and water is much better.
Jodrie recommends washing your hands for as long as it take to sing “Happy Birthday.”
Most people who get norovirus are sick anywhere between one to three days.
There are several over-the-counter medicines for the symptoms, but Jodrie says the most important treatment is to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
He says the overwhelming majority of patients can just ride it out. But he notes the very young, the very old, and those with certain pre-existing conditions have a higher risk of complications and need to be very careful.