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More norovirus outbreaks reported

Olmsted County Public Health is investigating several more possible outbreaks of norovirus in the Rochester area.

"In addition to the foodborne illness outbreaks being investigated last week, reports of illness have been received from parents, health care providers and schools, and investigations have begun at additional restaurants and a school in Olmsted County," according to Public Health spokeswoman Kari Etrheim.

Public Health typically sees about two outbreaks of food-borne illnesses like this annually. Right now, the department is dealing with five investiations at different venues, assisted by the Minnesota Department of Health.

"This level of activity is uncommon and indicates widespread community transmission," according to Public Health, though scattered cases of the virus have been fairly common. Widespread outbreaks in the county were reported in 2008 and 2011.

Symptoms of norovirus can include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms usually begin 24 to 48 hours after ingestion of the virus, and they often last a day or two. While unpleasant, most people weather the illness without a problem, but it can be dangerous for the elderly and for people with poor immune systems.

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Aside from drinking fluids, there's no treatment for the infection, and it can be difficult to stop the spread of the virus. Among the best ways: good hand hygiene.

The virus is commonly spread through food or water contaminated by fecal matter during preparation.

The latest outbreak was first identified at Terza Ristorante and Wild Bill's Sports Saloon last week, before the other outbreaks were reported. Public Health has since given both restaurants a clean bill of health.

Dr. Pritish Tosh, an infectious disease expert researcher at Mayo Clinic, said people need to stay home to keep from spreading the disease. "If your child becomes sick, the responsible thing is to not send to school or daycare until they are symptom-free," he said. "I realize that may be easier said than done."

The easiest way to prevent transmission is hand washing.

"We say it all the time, but it really is true - washing your hands frequently and thoroughly does help protect from norovirus, and many other illnesses," says Leah Espinda-Brandt, disease prevention and control nurse manager for Public Health.

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