A highly contagious new virus strain nicknamed the "winter vomiting disease" is spreading through the United States, health officials announced Thursday.
The country has seen more than 140 outbreaks of the new GII.4 Sydney strain of norovirus. A norovirus is a highly contagious virus that can infect anyone.
The strain is the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis, which causes diarrhea and vomiting and affects more than 21 million people and leads to about 800 deaths annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The bug was first detected in Australia in March 2012, according to data from CaliciNet, which tracks norovirus outbreaks. The proportion of outbreaks caused by the new strain jumped dramatically from 19 percent in September to 58 percent in December, the CDC said in its weekly report on death and disease
The new strain may not be unusually dangerous, but it is different, scientists say, and many people might not be able to fight off its gut-wrenching effects. It often spreads in places like schools, cruise ships, and nursing homes. The new strain was blamed for a recent outbreak on the Queen Mary 2, according to The Associated Press.
"Right now, it’s too soon to tell whether the new strain of norovirus will lead to more outbreaks than in previous years," Dr. Aron Hall, a CDC epidemiologist, told NBC News
. "However, CDC continues to work with state partners to watch this closely and see if the strain is associated with more severe illness."
Though the worst part of the infection usually lasts only a few days, young children and the elderly are most at risk of serious complications, typically because of the danger of dehydration from rapid fluid loss.
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