A vicious stomach bug is sweeping the nation, and Utah is not immune.
The norovirus -- which wreaks havoc on your gastrointestinal system -- is nothing new. However, the strain circulating the nation is, so no one has built an immunity yet.
Dr. Courtney R. Nelson, a physician at Wasatch Peak Family Practice in Layton, said the new strain was first identified in Australia. Symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, headache, body aches and fever come on rapidly, just hours after being exposed. It can stay in your system for up to two weeks or more, even after you start to feel better.
In addition, it's highly contagious and mutates quickly, said McKay-Dee Hospital clinical pharmacist Dustin Waters.
To give you an idea, he said, in order to catch the flu, a person needs to breathe in as many as 1,000 virus particles.
However, it only takes 18 virus particles of the new norovirus strain -- which many doctors are referring to as a "superbug" -- to make you violently ill.
According to the national Centers for Disease Control, in March 2012, the new strain named Norovirus Gll.4 Sydney was discovered in Australia. The CDC also estimates that 58 percent of norovirus cases in November and December 2012 were caused by the newly identified strain.
Other Gll.4 strains have previously been identified, and these, along with the new strain, have been associated with increased rates of hospitalization compared to other norovirus strains, Waters said.
In addition, Nelson and Waters said, the virus can survive on hard surfaces for weeks, meaning if you touch a doorknob that an infected person touched two weeks ago, you can still get sick. That's why washing your hands with soap and water is important.
It's also important to stay away from others and avoid preparing food while you're sick.
Experts warn that many disinfectants won't kill this bug. You're going to have to pull out the bleach to get rid of it.
"You can get norovirus illnesses many times in your life," Nelson said. "There are many different types of noroviruses, so being infected with one type may not protect you against other types."
Each year, norovirus causes about 21 million illnesses and contributes to 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths, Nelson said.
Noroviruses are the leading cause of epidemic gastroenteritis, including food-borne outbreaks in the U.S.
The virus can be found in your stool even before you start to feel sick. Not only can it be contracted from infected surfaces, but it can also be passed through contaminated food and liquids.
The elderly, youths and immunocompromised individuals are at higher risk for complications.
"There is no specific medicine to treat people with norovirus illness," Nelson said. "Norovirus cannot be treated with antibiotics because it's a viral infection."
Nelson and Waters said if you do become sick, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and call your doctor if you become severely ill.