Stomach flu cases are on the rise, with some severe enough to have Chicago-area residents heading to the emergency room. And it all comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a warning about a new stomach bug that is rising in prevalence.
“We see a lot of people coming in with the stomach flu,” said Dr. Evelyn Huang, an emergency physician at Northwestern Medicine and Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.
Huang said the most common stomach virus is norovirus. Recent data from the CDC shows an increase in norovirus cases in the Midwest in recent weeks.
While most norovirus cases typically occur between November and April of any given year, cases in the Midwest have increased significantly since mid-January, according to the latest measurements.
“We see a lot of children, and adults too, who are worried either because they’re immunocompromised or because they’ve had symptoms for a long time,” Huang said.
Norovirus, often called the stomach flu, although not related to the flu, “is a highly contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea” in people of all ages, the CDC states.
“Generally, people will see symptoms around 24 to 48 hours after developing the virus, and symptoms can last two to three to four days,” Huang said.
Meanwhile, a drug-resistant strain of bacteria that can cause similar symptoms is rapidly becoming more common, the CDC warned in a health alert.
The shigella bacteria cause an infection called shigellosis which can be accompanied by gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea and stomach cramps. An increasing percentage of shigella samples are found to be extremely resistant, meaning they are resistant to all five recommended antibiotic treatments, the CDC said.
But the bug is not the same as norovirus, according to Huang.
“Shigella can cause vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain, but we often see bloody diarrhea as well,” Huang said.
Symptoms of norovirus include:
- stomach pain
According to the Illinois Department of Health, “many noroviruses cause similar symptoms.”
If you or your family get sick with the stomach virus, doctors have said the best way to avoid emergencies is to stay hydrated.
“If you can’t keep food down, drink things like Pedialyte or Gatorade and then treat the symptoms with over-the-counter medications, like Maalox, Tylenol, ibuprofen, things that will somehow help you feel better,” Huang said.
Since norovirus is a viral infection, antibiotics will not treat it. If your symptoms are severe, you should seek medical help.
“If someone shows signs of dehydration, they vomit so much that nothing remains. They are excessively tired, their mouth is dry or they are not urinating, they should come to the emergency room,” Huang said.
Norovirus is highly transmissible, but it’s important to note that hand sanitizer doesn’t work well to stop it.
“You have to wash your hands with soap and water. That’s the only way to kill it,” Dr Huang said.
Health experts recommend washing your hands for at least 20 seconds before eating or preparing meals to avoid getting the stomach flu.