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Feb 12, 2013 4:24 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

'Cruise Ship Virus,' Norovirus, Lands On East End

Feb 18, 2013 6:52 PM

Virus and flu strains step on- and off-screen each winter like a revolving cast of characters in a TV series—and one of this year’s breakout stars has been a new strain of norovirus, a gastrointestinal illness that produces nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and sometimes diarrhea.

“Norovirus is what they get on those cruise ships—people in close quarters, maybe not washing their hands—but it’s highly contagious,” said Grace-Kelly McGovern, the Suffolk County Health Department’s public relations director. The New York Times reported in January that parts of Europe were in the clutches of norovirus this winter, and that the disease had been spreading across the United States and Canada.

“Outbreaks have been linked to sick food handlers, contaminated shellfish or water contaminated with sewage,” according to a fact sheet from the New York State Health Department provided by Peter Constantakes, a spokesman for the department. “The symptoms are really bad for 24, 48 hours, but then people generally recover,” Mr. Constantakes said, adding that the new strain came from overseas.

Both he and Ms. McGovern said they had not seen any particular spike in reports of norovirus this winter, although many cases go unreported simply because the illness passes so quickly and people simply suffer through it at home. “It’s kind of like the flu a lot. A lot of people who get the flu don’t go to see a doctor,” Ms. McGovern said.

Since mid-January, the state had heard of two cases in Suffolk County classified as outbreaks, “which really means more than one person,” according to Mr. Constantakes.

Marsha Kenny, the director of marketing and public affairs at Southampton Hospital, said she “was not aware of a big outbreak” on eastern Long Island. There were, she said, “a bunch of odd things going around” earlier this year—including one that knocked her out for a week—but she said that is not unusual. “People in the winter generally are sick because they’re indoors and there’s stuff floating around and going through air systems,” she said.

Southampton Pediatrics, which has offices in Southampton and Hampton Bays, has not seen many cases of gastroenteritis at all lately, said Laura Lynch, the practice administrator, after consulting with Dr. Joseph Quinn. Even if they did, she said, they would be unlikely to diagnosis norovirus, whose symptoms overlap with other ailments, even diarrhea brought on in children from antibiotics. The practice has been seeing a lot of strep throat, flu and coughs lately, Ms. Lynch said.

“We certainly have seen lots of kids with symptoms consistent with norovirus,” said Dr. Gail Schonfeld of East End Pediatrics in East Hampton. “We did have a big year for stomach flu, particularly about a month ago,” she said.

However, she said, there are a number of different germs that can cause the same symptoms, and there is no doctor’s office test for norovirus as there is for strep. Testing for norovirus requires sending off a stool sample—“not popular with staff,” and also expensive, Dr. Schonfeld said—and it has a turnaround time that most likely will outlive the illness itself.

“It’s not a particular catastrophe,” the doctor said of contracting the virus, although she added, “Anytime people get sick, it’s unpleasant.” She also noted that children are more likely than adults to have a fever, and that young children dehydrate more easily than adults.

While stomach flu apparently has “tapered off,” Dr. Schonfeld said, “we just started seeing a new strain of influenza” over the past two days. Unlike with norovirus, those cases could have been avoided by getting vaccinated in the fall, Dr. Schonfeld said.

Meanwhile, for those who’d like to avoid gastrointestinal distress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend washing hands with soap and water, not just hand sanitizer alone, to prevent being infected with norovirus. The CDC also recommends washing hands after using the toilet and changing diapers, and before eating, preparing or handling food; washing fruits and vegetables and cooking seafood thoroughly; disinfecting contaminated surfaces with a bleach solution; and handling soiled laundry items carefully and cleaning them thoroughly.

One reason for the concern: Noroviruses can survive on hard surfaces for up to 12 hours, and can survive in contaminated carpet for up to 12 days.

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I understand the reason why they call it "norovirus" is because the first strain they discovered and named was from Norwalk, OH. When other strains were discovered, they started calling them "Norwalk-like viruses" and then shortened it to norovirus. But "norovirus" sounds too much like "neurovirus." They really should give noroviruses a completely different name.
By btdt (449), water mill on Feb 14, 13 10:21 AM
NOT FAIR THAT YOU ARE LOCKING THIS ARTICLE! If this is a viral outbreak in our region, we should be able to access the whole story and send it on to other people. Come on guys!
By SisBoomBonacker (106), Hamptons on Feb 14, 13 11:19 AM
1 member liked this comment
Due to the fact of open borders and no accountability of individuals the
opportunity of virus illnesses is probable. I believe that we have been
exposed to many virus infections and it is time to require individuals
entering our country be processed via a checkpoint before
they move into communities.
By East Ender (64), Southampton on Feb 14, 13 2:00 PM
1 member liked this comment
Millions of legal US citizens cross the borders every year w/o any "accountability" in terms of disease control but you're pointing the finger at the small percentage of illegal crossings? Plus the article is about a strand of the common flu, keyword there is common, which we would have here with or without illegal immigrants, there is no correlation. Are you the type that looks for any reason to point the finger at illegals? May I ask where your grandparents are from? Are they Native Americans? ...more
By Moneybogue (37), Westhampton Beach on Feb 15, 13 4:06 PM
3 members liked this comment
When the Mexican illegals treat the United States as Mexico, by throwing toilet paper in the trash instead of the toilet. It makes perfect since, remember it is caused by contaminated food, and by wait for it, FECES. Pilgrims Pride, busted for hiring illegals and had product recalled for salmonella. You just got to connect the dots, but the liberals such as Obama and Dirty Harry Reid want to poison us, and wants to give Amnesty to illegals and their bassturrds the pop out (more food stamp money) ...more
By JoseGomez (2), Detroit on Oct 29, 13 1:49 AM
And just think, your average food indiustry employee gets no sick, personal, or vacation time.

Bon Appetit!
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Feb 14, 13 5:37 PM
1 member liked this comment
You know people should be lucky to have job. Want perks? THEN FIND A JOB WITH PERKS. It's that simple.
By JoseGomez (2), Detroit on Oct 29, 13 1:50 AM
I agree with EastEnder...... When immigrants arrived on Ellis Island they were subject to medical exams ....
By Biba (566), East Hampton on Feb 14, 13 8:38 PM
1 member liked this comment