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Norovirus Also Sickens 1 Million U.S. Kids Yearly

Norovirus has overtaken rotavirus in causing gastric illness, CDC study finds

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To get a better idea of how prevalent this infection really is, the researchers collected samples from hospitals, emergency departments and outpatient clinics from children under 5 years old who had acute gastrointestinal symptoms. The children were from three U.S. counties: Monroe County, N.Y.; Davidson County, Tenn.; and Hamilton County, Ohio. The samples were collected in 2009 and 2010, and were tested for both norovirus and rotavirus.

Norovirus was detected in 21 percent of children under 5 in 2009 and 2010. Rotavirus was found in 12 percent of children in the same age group. Norovirus was also found in 4 percent of healthy children tested in 2009 .

The study authors estimated that nationally, these data would mean that 14,000 youngsters under 5 would be hospitalized each year because of norovirus, and another 281,000 would visit the emergency room. About 627,000 young children would visit their doctor due to norovirus, according to the study. The cost of all of this medical care would exceed $273 million a year.

"This study doesn't mean that norovirus is increasing, only that proportionately, norovirus is responsible for more of the gastrointestinal illnesses out there," said Dr. Kenneth Bromberg, chairman of pediatrics and director of the Vaccine Research Center at Brooklyn Hospital Center, in New York City.

"This is the virus that's so contagious that when you flush your toilet, it flies all over the room," said Bromberg, who said these findings may even be an underrepresentation of the actual number of children sickened by this virus. He said because norovirus is so contagious, it's likely many of their parents were sickened as well.

It could be possible to develop a vaccine for norovirus, and Payne said researchers are already working on a vaccine. Both Payne and Bromberg said, however, that any vaccine would have to offer broad coverage because the type of norovirus infecting people can change over time. In this study, they saw two different types of norovirus.

Both experts said that for right now, thorough hand-washing and good hygiene habits remain the primary defense against norovirus. That means washing down surfaces, and, when you're preparing food, making sure you thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables. If someone who is infected touches the food, the infection can be passed on through the food. Payne also recommended not preparing food when you're sick with a gastrointestinal illness.

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