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Feb. 24, 2012

DHEC investigating statewide upswing in Norovirus cases

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Since the start of 2012, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has investigated more than twice the usual number of reported outbreaks thought to be associated with Norovirus, the agency announced today.

"These illnesses have occurred in a wide variety of institutional settings including schools, nursing homes and assisted living facilities," said Jerry Gibson, M.D., state epidemiologist and director of DHEC's Bureau of Disease Control. "Most of the illnesses have been caused by Norovirus, and this significant increase is similar to what we're hearing is happening in other states."

Dr. Gibson said symptoms of Norovirus include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping. Sometimes symptoms can include a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a general sense of tiredness. Most people show symptoms within 48 hours of exposure to Norovirus, with the illness typically lasting one to two days.

"Norovirus is very infectious and easily spreads from person to person. Those who have the virus can continue to spread it to others up to two weeks after their recovery," Dr. Gibson said. "Frequent hand washing with soap and warm water is the most effective way to stop transmission of illness from person to person. Commonly handled surfaces such as bathroom sink hardware, doorknobs and handrails can become contaminated by the unwashed hands of an ill person and further spread the illness. However, effective cleaning and control measures can easily stop the transmission of disease. Our cleaning guidelines are posted on our website (pdf).

"In long term care facilities, we recommend a proactive approach and advise that all visitors wash their hands with soap and water when they go visit a loved one," Dr. Gibson said. "We also encourage management to be vigilant and exclude any staff member who shows symptoms of Norovirus."

According to Dr. Gibson, anyone experiencing diarrhea or vomiting is encouraged to stay home from work or school and wash their hands often to reduce the spread of disease.

"The great majority of people get over this in 48 hours with no doctor visits," Dr. Gibson said. "Occasionally persons have severe illness requiring a medical visit and treatment for severe dehydration. This is more likely in the very young and the very old. The public can let us know about outbreaks by calling their local DHEC public health department."

More information about Norovirus is available on DHEC's website at:


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