ORANGE COUNTY – Outbreaks of Norovirus, the super bug of the stomach, may increase in the coming weeks according to a warning issued by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services last month.

The highly contagious gastrointestinal illness is experienced year-around, but the number of cases usually peaks in the winter months.

Stacy Shelp, Public Information Officer for the Orange County Health Department, says that a Norovirus outbreak has not moved into our area.

December outbreaks were reported in Alamance, Henderson, Burke, and Beaufort Counties, according to the Associated Press.

“We have not seen additional cases of the Norovirus here in Orange County,” Shelps says. “But we also know that this is the time of year that we really do start seeing an increase in cases. Kids are returning to school. The university students are returning to campus, etc., so there is a lot more exposure in a lot more confined spaces.”

The symptoms of Norovirus include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and possibly stomach cramping. Some people may also have fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a general sense of tiredness. The illness is present in the stools and vomit of sick people.

The illness begins suddenly and lasts for about one or two days.

It is spread through direct contact with a person who has the virus, by touching contaminated surfaces, or by eating food or drinking liquids that have been infected with the virus.

Shelp says the most effective way to prevent the spread of the Norovius is through hand washing, which can also help prevent the spread of the flu and other illnesses. Hand sanitizer gels are not effective against the Norovirus.

“What we are really encouraging people to do is to get their flu shot [to protect against the flu only], but then also washing your hands and disinfecting surfaces like counter tops and doorknobs. Spend the day thinking, ‘What do I touch with my hands?’”

There are no vaccines or specific medications to treat the Norovius.

Many commonly used disinfectants are not effective against the illness. Shelp recommends cleaning with a diluted bleach solution to disinfect surfaces after an episode of Norovius.