Highly Contagious Norovirus Spreads in the U.S.


Cases of infection with norovirus — a highly contagious germ that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea — are increasing across the country.

A report released at the end of last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that more than 12 percent of tests for norovirus nationwide were coming back positive for the week ending February 17, compared with 11.5 percent for the week before.

Currently, the Northeast seems to be the most affected region of the country, with a 13 percent test positivity rate, followed by the West (12 percent), the Midwest (10 percent), and the South (9.5 percent).

It’s not unusual to see a surge in norovirus cases in February. The CDC calls December through March the peak of the season. Still, the numbers are an improvement over last February, when the nationwide positive test rate for norovirus was about 15 percent. Annually, norovirus causes 19 to 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis in the United States, and this season is expected to be no different.

Although norovirus is sometimes referred to as “stomach flu,” health authorities stress that the virus is not related to influenza.

Norovirus Causes Gut-Wrenching Illness

“This is the time of year for norovirus,” says Stuart C. Ray, MD, a professor in the division of infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. “When I was a medical student almost 40 years ago, it was sometimes called the ‘winter vomiting illness.’”


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