Seasonal stomach virus hits NYC

Emergency department visits nearly double in Dec.
November 13, 2007 9:00:00 PM PST
Illness from a common infection called norovirus has spiked in New York City in recent weeks, the Department of Health is reporting Thursday.Emergency department visits for vomiting and diarrhea, the most common symptoms, have jumped from 300 visits per day to nearly 500 visits per day since November, prompting health officials to remind all New Yorkers to stay home when they are sick and to wash their hands frequently.

Norovirus, commonly known as stomach flu, is a seasonal illness that typically peaks during the winter months, here and across the nation.

Norovirus rarely causes more than a few days of illness. In addition to vomiting and diarrhea, the symptoms may include nausea, stomach cramping, fever, chills, aches and tiredness.

"The best way to stop the spread of norovirus is to wash your hands regularly with soap and stay home from work or school if you are sick," said Dr. Sharon Balter, Director of Enteric Disease for the Health Department's Bureau of Communicable Disease. "Norovirus is common at this time of year and is not serious for most people, but it is important to take these steps to keep others from getting sick."

There are no specific treatments for stomach viruses. People with diarrhea or vomiting, particularly young children, should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, the most concerning consequence of stomach viruses. If an infected person stops urinating or cannot keep fluids down, he or she should seek health care promptly.

People can become sick with this stomach virus in several ways, including:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus
  • Touching surfaces that are contaminated with norovirus, and then putting their hands in their mouths
  • Having close contact with a person who is sick - sharing foods or utensils, for example, or changing a sick child's diaper
  • How to prevent stomach infections:

  • Wash your hands often with soap for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or before touching food
  • Supervise young children washing their hands after using the bathroom and before eating
  • If you are sick with vomiting or have diarrhea, stay at home until you recover - especially if you work in a restaurant or day care
  • If someone is sick, clean and disinfect surfaces that may have become dirty with vomit or stool as soon as possible with a germ-killing cleaner (i.e. a cleaner that has bleach in it). Throw out any vomit or stool you clean up in sealed plastic bags. Remember to wear gloves when cleaning up contaminated areas and wash your hands after cleaning.

    Currently, the Health Departments only source of information on noroviral infections in New York City is emergency department data. This past October, the Health Department proposed to the Board of Health that all New York City laboratories be required to report norovirus cases to the Department. This measure would allow the Health Department to better monitor norovirus trends and target prevention messages. The Board will consider the proposal in January.

    For more information on noroviruses, please visit