A new strain of the extremely unpleasant — though usually non-lethal — stomach bug known as the “norovirus” has led to more than 140 outbreaks since September, ABC News reports.
The virus, which has been rampant in other parts of the world for some time now, has now caused significant illness in America. Public health officials are particularly worried about the rapid pace at which the virus proliferates:
In the U.S., it is now accounting for about 60 percent of norovirus outbreaks, according to report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Norovirus — once known as Norwalk virus — is highly contagious and often spreads in places like schools, cruise ships and nursing homes, especially during the winter. [...]
Sometimes mistakenly called stomach flu, the virus causes bouts of vomiting and diarrhea for a few days. [...]
Ian Goodfellow, a prominent researcher at England’s University of Cambridge, calls norovirus ‘the Ferrari of viruses’ for the speed at which it passes through a large group of people.
“It can sweep through an environment very, very quickly. You can be feeling quite fine one minute and within several hours suffer continuous vomiting and diarrhea,” he said.
The virus, which is the root cause behind most U.S. food poisoning cases, is spread through the air as well as direct contact with contaminated surfaces. Luckily, its fatality rate is relatively low.
But the timing of the pathogen’s American debut is rather unfortunate given this year’s rampant flu epidemic, which has already forced some American emergency rooms to turn patients away from their facilities. And since the norovirus and influenza both disproportionately affect children and the elderly, the combination of the two could be a prescription for public health havoc.