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Linn County Cited as one of State's Hot Spots for Norovirus Investigations

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Feeling ill? There's a good chance that norovirus a food-borne stomach illness is the root cause.

Linn County was identified Tuesday as one of five counties where the Iowa Department of Public Health has been investigating eight probable norovirus outbreaks. Others are Polk, Scott, Kossuth and Black Hawk counties.

Cases also have been reported elsewhere in Iowa, said Ann Garvey, deputy state epidemiologist. "We really are hearing anecdotally that there's statewide activity," she said.

Symptoms, which include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps, can begin as little as 12 hours after the virus is ingested, but last just one to two days.

Garvey said anyone feeling ill should avoid preparing food for others until two days after they have recovered. "It's so infectious that it really passes easily," she said, even with thorough hand-washing. "People should stay home if they're ill, even if that means missing a holiday celebration."

Garvey noted that most of the outbreaks involved 15 to 20 people, with others slightly fewer. Some of the people became ill after eating at restaurants where food handlers had been ill and others were at holidays parties or potlucks, she said.

State law prohibits identifying any food establishment involved unless there is a direct public health threat. For example, if customers were exposed to hepatitis A and needed to be located for treatment to prevent the illness, the restaurant could be named, Garvey said.

Also, unlike food-borne illnesses such as salmonella and E. coli, norovirus cannot be identified by a specific DNA "fingerprint" and therefore cannot be conclusively tied to any particular case, she said.

In norovirus cases, the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals advises the restaurant on measures to take to prevent an outbreak from recurring. There is no treatment for norovirus, other than staying hydrated and rested. One common complication is dehydration that might require hospitalization.

Garvey said the illness differs from influenza, which has respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing and congestion. So far, only sporadic cases of the flu have been reported in Iowa, she said.

"We tend to get more (flu) activity when it gets colder," Garvey said, noting that Iowa's peak could hit in January or February. "I'm sure it's coming."

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