HELENA – Local and state health officials are reporting an increase in norovirus outbreaks recently.

DPHHS says the department is investigating eight reported outbreaks in the last six weeks.

This year’s outbreaks have occurred in Cascade, Fergus, Flathead, Gallatin, Meagher, Missoula, Silver Bow and Yellowstone counties.

State health officials say this time of year is often when they see an increase in norovirus cases. The trend is similar to what they saw last year.

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DPHHS officials say norovirus is very contagious and can affect anyone. It can spread rapidly between persons and through contaminated food or water. Norovirus can also survive on surfaces and be transferred to other people when they touch the contaminated surface.

The usual symptoms of norovirus include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain.

The illness is the most common form of gastroenteritis in Montana and US. Health officials say the average American gets infected with this virus five times in their lifetime.

“Different strains of norovirus can circulate through the state and there is no vaccine,” said Dana Fejes of the DPHHS Communicable Disease Epidemiology Section. “Your best method of prevention is to wash your hands often with soap and water. Once infected, stay hydrated to avoid complications.”

There is no specific treatment for norovirus, but DPHHS says that most people recover within one to three days. Those who are affected the worst are young children, the elderly or those who have chronic health conditions.

DPHHS says as a reminder to protect others: stay home and don’t prepare food when you are sick.

Here are a few tips offered by DPHHS to prevent the spread of the illness along with other infections.

  • Practice proper hand hygiene: Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing. But, they should not be used as a substitute for washing with soap and water.
  • Take care in the kitchen: Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
  • Do not prepare food while ill: People who are infected with norovirus should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for 3 days after they recover from their illness.
  • Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces:  After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces. Use a chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of 1000–5000 parts per million (generally 5 to 25 tablespoons of standard household bleach per gallon of water) or other disinfectant labeled as effective against norovirus.
  • Wash laundry thoroughly: Immediately remove clothing or linens that may be contaminated and wash with detergent at the maximum length available cycle, then machine dry. Handle soiled items carefully—without agitating them—to avoid spreading virus.

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