AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The Maine Center for Disease Control has issued a health warning after receiving numerous reports of outbreaks of the norovirus.
"Norovirus is totally different from influenza," stated state epidemiologist, Dr. Stephen Sears. "They are both happening in Maine right now, and you have to know a little bit about each one to protect yourself."
Doctor Sears says they first started seeing the virus in Mainers in November, but the number of outbreaks has increased rapidly in recent weeks. He estimates the number of outbreaks are in the mid-twenties, and while initially the majority of cases were found in York County, the virus has spread to all corners of the state.
He says the virus is not the traditional '24-hour bug' that we have all had at one time or another in our lives, but a much more intense and debilitating illness.
The norovirus is a gastrointestinal illness, which means you have to eat or drink something or have contact with someone who is infected, to catch it. Symptoms include 48 to 72 hours of nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea.
"The biggest problem with this virus is making sure you don't get dehydrated, because you can really lose a lot of fluid, and if people get really sick they sometimes even need an IV from this because they can't hold fluids down," Dr. Sears explained. "We still say, 'if you are sick take it easy, lie down, try to keep fluids in.' There is not treatment specifically, it is a virus, we don't have medications for it overall. The good thing is it is going to go away, the bad thing is it just seems like it takes forever for it to go away."
He says unlike influenza, there is no vaccination for norovirus and that people who have had the illness in the past can get it again because there are different strains of it. Because it is highly contagious, he says they are seeing many outbreaks in nursing homes and other places where people congregate.
His advice to prevent catching norovirus is to wash your hands regularly, cover coughs to help prevent spreading germs and staying home from work or school if you are sick.
He says most people need not seek medical attention because there is little hospitals can do to treat you. He says people who catch the norovirus and have other underlying medical conditions, or who's symptoms do not go away after more than three days should talk with their doctor or contact their local hospital.
"If you are so woozy, if you are lightheaded, if you are dizzy and you really can't hold fluids down, then you might need to seek medical care because you might need something more than just home remedies," he said.
Maine is also one of 41 states where influenza is classified as widespread. The Maine CDC recommends people get their flu shots, and while it will not help protect you from the norovirus, the flu has yet to reach its peak here in Maine and getting vaccinated can help prevent you becoming infected.