SANTA BARBARA COUNTY — The norovirus is easily spread, especially in close quarters, and it has even forced a local school to close its doors to prevent a larger outbreak.It’s a group of viruses most commonly referred to as the stomach flu. “They cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea,” said Santa Barbara County Public Health Deputy Director Michele Mickiewicz.In the United Kingdom, the Health Protection Agency is reporting an 83-percent jump in confirmed cases of the norovirus from last year. Last month in San Luis Obispo County, the stomach bug has caused at least three outbreaks. The reason the norovirus is serious is because it’s easily spread. It’s dangerous for the elderly and very young because it can cause dehydration. “It’s very contagious. That’s one of the things that’s common in situations like schools and daycare centers, nursing homes, cruise ships,” explained Mickiewicz. Within the past year in Santa Barbara County, there were 13 outbreaks with upwards of 300 people affected. Five of the outbreaks were lab confirmed. “There can be as many as 250 to 300 additional cases for everyone that gets lab confirmed,” said Mickiewicz. One of the 13 outbreaks was at Dunn School in Los Olivos in December. In order to prevent the virus from spreading through the campus, students were let out on an early and extended holiday break and will return Monday, January 7. Although it can be called the stomach flu, it is not an influenza virus meaning there is no vaccination. However, the tips for how to stay norovirus free are simple. “The biggest thing is hand washing but there are a couple other things. One is if you are sick, not to take care of other people or prepare food for other people when you are yourself sick,” said Mickiewicz. The virus symptoms can last from one to three days, but if someone has it they can still be contagious for an additional three days after the symptoms are gone. An additional tip while doing laundry is to wash clothes in hot water and with the longest wash cycle on the machine.
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