Flu, Norovirus active this winter

Hand washing, good personal hygiene help stop spread

Some familiar viruses are active in Europe this winter, and medical officials are encouraging preventive measures to help stop their spread.

Norovirus, H1N1 influenza and other influenza-like illnesses are getting attention in host nation civilian and U.S. military communities.

“It is common to see viral activity during winter months, so people should not be alarmed. But we do encourage prevention and vaccination to slow the spread of these viruses,” said Col. Evelyn Barraza, preventive medicine consultant for the Europe Regional Medical Command.

The ERMC Force Health Protection office reports that as of Dec. 28, 2010, 98 percent of active duty Army personnel in U.S. Army Europe have received seasonal flu vaccine. Though mandatory for military personnel, seasonal flu vaccine — which this year helps prevent H1N1 and two other flu strains — is optional for most family members and other beneficiaries. This school year, the seasonal flu vaccine was added to the list of required immunizations for students enrolled in the Department of Defense Schools in Europe, significantly increasing the number of vaccinated beneficiaries in military communities.

“Prevention makes a difference. It is not too late to get a seasonal flu vaccine,” Barraza said. “Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for Norovirus, so following basic preventive measures, especially hand hygiene, becomes even more important.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention characterizes Norovirus as a highly contagious “stomach bug” that can spread rapidly, particularly in settings such as offices, schools and day care centers. It can cause stomach and intestinal inflammation, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain.

H1N1 influenza, now considered as one of the “seasonal flu” viruses, and other influenza-like illnesses are also on the rise this winter in both the U.S. and Europe, according to Barraza.

To help prevent the spread of viruses:
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough. If a tissue is not available, then sneeze or cough into your sleeve or elbow — not your hand.

• Practice proper hand hygiene. Wash hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer/gel.

• Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as germs spread this way.

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick. 

• Do not prepare food for others while ill, and clean contaminated surfaces often.

For more information, visit the ERMC website at http://ermc.amedd.army.mil.