Health care providers are on alert for the stomach flu, better known as the Norovirus. It's been linked to health scares on ships and schools.
This strain of the Norovirus apparently got its start in Australia. If you contract it the stomach virus could put you "down under" for a couple of days. The bug has traveled across the ocean to our shores. It has sickened scores living close to the Mid-South.
MORE: Centers for Disease Control new strain of Norovirus
No cases of the Norovirus in Memphis and the Mid-South but health officials are keeping a close eye on cases reported close by.
In Atlanta, 20 cases of the stomach bug have been confirmed and Fulton County health officials in Atlanta fear the number could be in the thousands.
In Lincoln, Ark., a community near Fayetteville, Lincoln Consolidated Schools Superintendent Clay Hendrix had to shut down the schools for nearly a week after 200 students called in sick, almost 20 an hour, complaining of a stomach bug. A number of teachers and their families were affected as well.
"I don't think anything in the buildings is making anyone sick," Superintendent Hendrix told FOX13 news. "They are getting sick at home, coming to the us at school sick."
The Arkansas Health Department is treating the incident as if it was the Norovirus by cleaning the elementary, middle and high schools with diluted bleach.
"Norovirus is so common. 21 million people get infected every year," Dr. Bryan Simmons, an infectious disease specialist at Methodist Le Bonheur Hospital.
Dr. Simmons said the virus can shut down schools, restaurants and force a cruise ship to dock.
Experts say poor hygiene is to blame as many don't wash their hands after the using the bathroom. In turn they infect a common surface by touching it.
The symptoms hit you hard and fast but don't last long.
"It can put you on your knees when you are at your worst," Dr. Simmons said. "Three days later you can be totally well and done of the disease."
The Norovirus has been known to kill 800 annually. It is too dangerous to be ignored, Dr. Simmons added. Washing your hands is best the defense. Eating at a restaurant, where you witness the employees constantly clean the counter tops and other areas, will also help in your defense.
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