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You may think you have the flu, but you probably don’t

by Kristin Callahan
Jan 16, 2013

Got noro? Ride it out

There is no specific treatment for norovirus except to let the illness take its course. Although most people recover in two days, there are ways to decrease your chances of catching it at all. Typically, the disease is spread from person to person in crowded or closed places.

Washing your hands frequently and properly is a must, especially after using the toilet or before handling food or water.


With all the focus on this year's flu epidemic, less attention has been paid to another emerging epidemic making its way through the country: the norovirus.

While the norovirus may seem similar to the flu virus in name, in terms of symptoms, the two are very different.

The norovirus is the most common type of virus that causes gastroenteritis and is marked by severe vomiting and diarrhea. The influenza virus, on the other hand, stays within the respiratory region. Those symptoms include coughing, sneezing, fever and body aches.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the norovirus causes about 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis worldwide and contributes to around 70,000 hospitalizations each year. About 800 people, mostly elderly and young children, die from norovirus annually.

So far, the norovirus has swept through the United Kingdom, recently spread to Europe and appears to be making an impact in the United States now.

Healthcare facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes are the most commonly reported places for norovirus outbreaks in the United States. This proves true for Illinois, where several so-called little outbreaks have been contained in long-term care facilities, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.

“It might just be more people are aware of it and are reporting it more,” said department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold.

Regardless, she said, Illinois typically sees hundreds of cases of the virus every year.

In Chicago, it has not yet been determined if there is anything striking about the amount of norovirus cases.

“We get at least one patient a day that complains of it,” said Melissa Miller, a physician’s assistant at the Physicians Immediate Care Clinic in Chicago’s West Loop. “I can’t say that is anything out of the ordinary.”