Wash your hands and wash them well, because a very contagious strain of norovirus is making its way through the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control report that more than 140 outbreaks in the United States since September have been caused by the "Sydney strain," as it was dubbed when it was first identified in Australia last year.
This strain is responsible for outbreaks in multiple countries, according to the CDC.
Since the norovirus outbreaks peaked in January during the past three winters, it is too soon to tell the magnitude of the current season, the CDC website said.
Dr. Hugh Palmer, of Green Springs Family Medicine, said he began seeing patients with it in the second week of January.
"It's very contagious," Palmer said. "The strain now is called 'the Ferrari' of norovirus, and it is in the same family as the one you always see on cruise ships where everyone on the boat gets ill."
The norovirus starts with stomach pain and diarrhea or vomiting that usually lasts for two to three days, he said.
He tells patients to stick to a clear liquid diet before gradually increasing to a bland diet, such as toast or bananas, and to avoid dairy products or anything greasy, fried or spicy.
"It usually takes above five to seven days to get back to normal," Palmer said.
Sometimes he prescribes probiotics for patients if their symptoms are persistent - he saw one case that lasted for eight days.
"You've got to do a lot of hand washing," Palmer said. "The strain has mutated a little bit and gotten worse, and it just seems to be passing along so much easier this year."
Anyone who thinks they have norovirus should stay home and avoid going out in public where it can easily be spread to others, Palmer advised.
Norovirus causes about 21 million illnesses in the United States each year, according to the CDC.
The best way to prevent it is with proper hand washing and general cleanliness, the CDC website said.
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