A nasty stomach virus is making its seasonal appearance in Maine, prompting an advisory from state public health officials.
Since November, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has investigated 16 reports of gastroenteritis outbreaks statewide, according to the advisory. Southern Maine saw the majority of outbreaks, with 56 percent arising in York County.
An outbreak consists of two or more ill individuals.
A type of norovirus, also known as “winter vomiting disease,” was identified as the culprit in half of the outbreaks, the advisory stated. The primary symptoms of norovirus infection are intense bouts of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping that typically last 24 to 48 hours.
It’s also often described as the stomach flu, but is not related to influenza.
Noroviruses, a group of related viruses, are found in the vomit and stool of infected people. The viruses are highly contagious and spread easily in tight quarters such as hotels, schools, long-term care facilities, airplanes and cruise ships.
Exposure can result through direct contact with someone who is ill, by consuming food or drinks handled by an infected person, and by touching contaminated objects or surfaces, where the viruses can linger for prolonged periods. Norovirus is often transmitted through leafy greens, fresh fruits and shellfish.
Ill individuals and people close to them should wash their hands often and avoid sharing utensils. The virus can be transmitted from the moment symptoms appear and typically two to five days after recovering, according to the advisory. Some people can spread the illness for as long as two weeks after feeling better.
The U.S. CDC estimates that about one in every 15 Americans will get sick with norovirus each year. Between November 2010 and April 2011, Maine recorded 62 confirmed norovirus outbreaks and 22 suspected outbreaks.