COVID-19 Cases Remain Low, Stomach Flu Outbreaks Rise

While coronavirus cases continue to decline across the U.S., another virus is climbing to its pre-pandemic levels, according to NBC News.

Outbreaks of the norovirus, which causes stomach flu, have increased dramatically since the beginning of January. As COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, people are gathering more, which has likely led to an uptick in infections.

Since early January, the number of weekly outbreaks has risen from fewer than 10 to more than 50, according to the latest CDC data. The data is based on reports from health departments in a dozen states across the country: Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Norovirus outbreaks appear to be returning to pre-pandemic levels after declining during most of the pandemic. Between August 2021 and early March, the CDC reported 448 norovirus outbreaks. During the same time period the previous year, only 78 outbreaks were reported.

This year’s norovirus outbreak levels are still below or within the typical range seen since 2012. Norovirus outbreaks tend to peak between November and April and begin declining in the spring, reaching low levels throughout the summer and early fall.

The data doesn’t suggest that norovirus outbreaks are directly linked to coronavirus outbreaks, NBC News reported. But this year’s increase is likely related to the overall reduction in public health measures aimed at COVID-19, which has allowed other viruses to spread. For instance, flu cases have increased this year but remain lower than pre-pandemic levels, according to CDC data.

The norovirus is highly contagious and spreads between humans through infected surfaces and contaminated food or water. Known commonly as stomach flu, the illness caused by the norovirus can lead to symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, and vomiting.

Norovirus outbreaks tend to be more common in areas where people are in close quarters, NBC News reported, particularly cruise ships and daycare centers.

Since the norovirus spreads on surfaces and in contaminated food, the CDC recommends good hand hygiene after using the bathroom and while preparing food. People should rinse fruits and vegetables before eating them and cook shellfish thoroughly. To avoid spreading the norovirus, people should stay home when sick and for 2 days after symptoms stop.

Sources:

NBC News: “Covid cases are down. Unfortunately, stomach flu outbreaks are up.”

CDC: “Norovirus: NoroSTAT Data,” “Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report, updated April 1, 2022,” “Norovirus.”

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