PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — If you’re sick with vomiting and diarrhea, it’s just a run-of-the-mill norovirus, right? The kind that easily spreads on cruise ships, schools and nursing homes.
Well, yes and no.
“Different strains can cross with each other and create a new strain, and new strains often have different medical implications,” says West Penn Hospital ER physician Dr. Camilo Caceres.
Turns out a new strain of norovirus called, GII4 Sydney, is to blame for more and more outbreaks in the United States, from 19 percent in September to 58 percent in December.
While the symptoms are the same, they may be more troublesome.
“This particular strain from Sydney is a little more potent,” says Dr. Caceres. “They have higher rates of hospitalizations, higher rates of death even.”
But it’s not standard operating procedure to find out if this is what you have.
“For the most part we don’t really type them. For the most part it’s self-limited, and we give them fluid and some nausea medication,” he says.
You get norovirus, no matter what the strain, from contaminated food, water and surfaces. Most outbreaks occur from November to April with the peak in January.
“I think it’s going to ramp up in January and then peter back down,” Dr. Caceres predicts.
Twenty-one million Americans a year get sick with vomiting and diarrhea, and the number one cause is norovirus. About 800 people die. The very young and the elderly are at highest risk for severe illness.