Updated 2:57 p.m. | Posted: 12:21 p.m.
Minnesota Department of Health officials say a strain of norovirus that's associated with 20 reported outbreaks since September has emerged.
The strain first circulated around Asia last winter before making its way to the United States. Health department officials say reports of norovirus-like illnesses have increased over the past week.
Amy Saupe, a foodborne disease epidemiologist at MDH, said norovirus is often mistaken for the stomach flu because both cause the same symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. But it's important for people to know that norovirus is a strong, "hearty virus" easily passed through fecal-oral transmission, not through breathing or coughing.
• Norovirus or flu? How to know (and what to do)"And I know that sounds really gross, but that just means that people who are sick with the virus are shedding it in their stool and in their vomit, and then other people get sick when they get that virus in their mouth," she said. "It only takes just a tiny amount of this virus to make people sick."
People who've been sick with the virus can spread the virus while preparing food for others, even if they're feeling better. The 20 outbreaks reported in Minnesota came from different settings like restaurants, long-term care facilities, schools and private parties.
"If you're going to a holiday potluck and you've had vomiting or diarrhea, or maybe a child in your household has had vomiting or diarrhea, maybe skip that holiday potluck," Saupe said. "Or at the very least, buy food from somewhere else and don't bring food from your house to the potluck."
Saupe said thorough hand washing and sanitizing surfaces with bleach are the most effective methods to stop the virus from spreading.
Minnesota health officials say more norovirus illnesses could be reported over the next few weeks.