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Children getting sick with stomach virus; local doctors point to norovirus as the cause

Posted at 4:09 PM, Feb 21, 2023

A common illness this time of year is making people sick—especially kids. It's gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the lining of the stomach and intestines. The likely culprit, experts say, this time of year is norovirus.

Dr. Keili Mistovich with Greater Cleveland Pediatrics said they’ve noticed an uptick in gastroenteritis, likely norovirus due to the symptoms. However, she said they don’t test unless kids get hospitalized.

The CDC said norovirus outbreaks are common, usually between November and April in the United States, and right now data from the National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System shows the number of positive norovirus tests from participating U.S. labs is rising right now.

Norovirus is often called the stomach flu, but it’s not influenza.

It is a highly contagious germ that spreads quickly and easily from the sick person to others.

Symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea come on quickly, and usually subside within one to two days.

Norovirus is spread through the fecal-oral route. So, frequent handwashing is crucial, especially after using the restroom and changing diapers.

Schools, day cares and health care facilities are common settings for norovirus outbreaks.

The CDC reports norovirus is responsible for nearly a million pediatric medical care visits a year, and children under 5 and adults 85 and older are more likely to have an outpatient or ER visit than people of other ages.

“Our biggest concern with gastroenteritis is that children are going to get dehydrated,” said Mistovich.

She said children lose fluids with the illness, and they’re also less likely to replenish them due to stomach upset. So, it’s important to monitor wet diapers and urine output.

She recommends sipping on Pedialyte or Pedialyte popsicles to replenish electrolytes.

It has been a rough fall and winter for families, with younger kids getting two to three illness per month instead of the usual one a month, Mistovich said. Likely due to resuming pre-pandemic life, she said, and she reminds everyone that it's important that kids do get sick. 

“It is important that we see viruses and they do get sick every once in a while, and that's actually good for them,” said Mistovich. “So, while it's hard to watch them go through and we want to try and prevent infection as much as we can, know that it is actually important for their bodies to grow and build their immune systems."

When it comes to preventing norovirus, Mistovich said handwashing is your best line of defense.

“Making sure that our kids are washing their hands before they eat and certainly after they're going to the bathroom,” she said. “Washing hands multiple times throughout the day is really one of the biggest keys to prevent this particular virus.”

Mistovich said norovirus symptoms will usually develop within a couple days of exposure and usually subside as quickly as they hit.

She said you should be symptom-free for at least 24 hours before returning to school or work.

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