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Outbreaks of Norwalk virus spread across Minnesota

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- An unprecedented 25 outbreaks of illness afflicting as many as 1,000 people have been attributed to Norwalk-like viruses since Nov. 1, state health officials said Wednesday.

The illness causes intense vomiting, cramps and diarrhea usually for one or two days.

Around the state, doctors say clinic waiting rooms are filled with people suffering from these symptoms. The illness has struck hundreds of students at Mounds View High School and members of two professional sports teams -- the Vikings and the Wild.

"It's everywhere," said Dr. Brad Benson, an internist and pediatrician at the University of Minnesota Primary Care Center in Minneapolis.

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Health officials said Norwalk-like viruses typically make the rounds in winter.

Dr. Kirk Smith, a Minnesota Health Department disease detective, said he's concerned that outbreaks will increase as winter arrives.

"Once (the virus) gets going, it just spreads like wildfire," he said. "I'm worried. We're going to see nursing home, school and other outbreaks all winter."

Most people recover on their own, but the virus can be dangerous to the elderly, children and those with weakened immune systems because it can cause severe dehydration, Smith said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that Norwalk-like viruses cause 23 million cases of stomach illness each year.

Good hand washing is the best defense against this illness, Smith said. The bugs spread when viral particles from the feces of an infected person get into food or on the hands and are then ingested. Flu shots don't protect against the virus.

Most healthy people will feel better in a day or two, said Dr. Jon Hallberg, a family practice doctor at the University of Minnesota Primary Care Center.

"It's terrible, but it's short-lived," he said. "You'll get through it."

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