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Current reports increasing for stomach-related illnesses

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) said reports of stomach-related illnesses known overall as viral gastroenteritis have been recently increasing in Wyoming.

Recent upticks have been reported from the northern part of the state, including Sheridan and Park counties, as well as in southern Wyoming’s Laramie County. “We are specifically seeing increased reports in school and restaurant settings,” said Matt Peterson, WDH surveillance epidemiologist.

Peterson said commonly reported symptoms include vomiting, nausea, chills and diarrhea. 

“We are encouraging anyone with these symptoms to stay home from work or school and from social events such as graduation parties and weddings until 48 hours have passed since their last bout of vomiting or diarrhea,” Peterson said.

Commonly described as “stomach flu” or “food poisoning,” gastroenteritis can spread easily when people eat or drink contaminated food and beverages, touch contaminated surfaces or through close contact with someone already sick.

Contamination is almost always not obvious. “We’re usually talking about extremely tiny amounts of poop or vomit we can’t see,” Peterson said

Gastroenteritis can be caused by rotaviruses, noroviruses, adenoviruses, sapoviruses, and astroviruses, along with some bacteria (such as E. coli and salmonella). Noroviruses are most common.

Illness can hit quickly between 12 to 48 hours after a person has been exposed. Symptoms can last from one to ten days, depending on which virus caused the illness, and go away without causing long-term problems. 

“Gastroenteritis illnesses can be prevented,” Peterson said. “It sounds too simple, but, truly, good hand washing is critical.”

Recommended steps to help prevent illness include:

—Frequently wash hands, especially after using the restroom or changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food.

—If ill, stay home from work and school, especially if employed in food-handling, healthcare or child care.

—Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of vomiting or diarrhea with a solution of 1 cup household bleach per 1 gallon of water and letting the solution sit for one minute.  Always follow manufacturers’ safety precautions.

—Immediately remove and wash contaminated clothing or linens after an episode of illness (use hot water and soap).

—Flush or discard any vomit and/or poop in the toilet and keep the surrounding area clean.

—Ill persons should take extra care to avoid spreading the virus by minimizing contact with other persons while ill and practicing good hygiene. 

“Gastroenteritis can be serious when people become dehydrated,” Peterson said. He noted those who become severely ill may need to call or visit a medical professional.  Infants, young children, immunocompromised persons, and persons unable to care for themselves, such as the disabled or elderly, are at higher risk for dehydration and may need hospitalization.

Peterson noted there are two licensed rotavirus vaccines available that protect against severe diarrhea from rotavirus infection in infants and young children. “These vaccines are given to children in their first year of life with other childhood vaccines, but, unfortunately, are not useful against other causes of viral gastroenteritis,” he said.

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