70 people hospitalized for norovirus in New Year

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70 people hospitalized for norovirus in New Year

Kim Mi-jin is the mother of a 7-year-old daughter and the 4-year-old son. But unlike most people, she spent New Year’s Day in the emergency room, while her son struggled with a high fever that had climbed beyond 39 degrees Celsius (102.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on the previous night.

“He was diagnosed with enteritis, caused by the norovirus,” she said. “I’m worried about my daughter because she’s also showing symptoms similar to my son: vomiting and high fever.”

Despite the bitterly cold weather in Seoul - it was minus 10 degrees Celsius on New Year’s Day - winter enteritis is in full swing, which has led a number of patients to the hospital.

According to statistics from Severance Hospital in Seodaemun District, northwestern Seoul, 70 patients rushed to the emergency room on New Year’s Eve, all exhibiting symptoms of enteritis, more commonly known as inflammation of the small intestine.

Among them were 20 adults and 50 children.

“Most of the patients were children or those in their 20s or 30s,” a hospital official overseeing the night shift said on Dec. 31.

Winter enteritis is caused by norovirus in most cases, also known as the winter vomiting bug, which is highly contagious.

The virus becomes active when temperatures plummet, earning it the distinction of being the representative virus for enteritis during the cold season.

In children, vomiting is generally the first sign that they’ve been infected by norovirus, while adults tend to get diarrhea, symptoms that occur one or two days after incubation.

“Enteritis caused by norovirus can generally be treated in three or four days after symptoms start,” said Dr. Lee Bo-in, who works in the gastroenterology department at the Catholic Medical Center. “In those with weakened immune systems, however, it tends to last longer or they show symptoms of dehydration.”

The norovirus stays active even when heated beyond 60 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes. And even though the virus is mostly transmitted via contaminated food or water, people can still catch it if they’ve been in contact with a patient or their belongings.

Individual sanitation - washing one’s hands regularly, for instance - is highly recommended to prevent the spread of the virus.

Food should also be thoroughly cooked and water boiled, even in the winter, said Kim Yeong-taek, an official from the Korean Center of Disease Control and Prevention.

BY RHEE ESTHER [ypc3c@joongang.co.kr]

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