Sanitation, isolation best defenses.

A fast acting intestinal virus has hit the Pratt area with a short lived but very uncomfortable illness that leaves people feeling very weak.

The symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea that last from one to three days, said Deb McGraw, Pratt County director of public health.

Once the disease has run its course it leaves the person feeling weak and shaky for about seven days, McGraw said.

Symptoms come on very quickly. Alesia Hearn, who has just gotten over the illness, said she felt fine when she went to bed one night but by 2:30 a.m. the next morning she was having stomach cramps that led to vomiting and diarrhea.

"It came out of nowhere," Hearn said.

The disease is probably norovirus, commonly called Winter Vomiting Disease, said Charlie Hunt, Kansas Department of Health and Environment state epidemiologist.

It is also known as the cruise ship virus and has a very high infection rate under cruise ship conditions reaching 50 percent.

Since the disease is short lived and people are recovering quickly, no testing has been done to positively identify the illness but the symptoms indicate it is norovirus, Hunt said.

The incubation period is about 24 hours and the main symptoms, vomiting and diarrhea, set in very quickly and can last from one to three days.

Most people recover fully from the disease without any long term effects but they do feel run down for about a week, Hunt said.

Because the illness brings on vomiting and diarrhea, people with the disease need to drink plenty of replacement fluids even if they don't feel like drinking.

The most susceptible to the disease are the young and the elderly because the dehydration can affect them worse than other age groups.

All age groups are susceptible to the disease and it seems to be wide spread, McGraw said.

Very few people get the disease in a severe form that can require hospitalization. In very rare cases it can cause death.

The best defense against the disease is to wash hands frequently, especially after using the restroom, and avoid people who have the disease. Avoid areas where someone has vomited and if at all possible avoid using the same bathroom with someone who has the disease.

"With norovirus its about the only thing," Hunt said.

People with the disease should avoid contact with other people, don't go to work and especially avoid food preparation. The disease can be transmitted through food.

They should stay home, get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids.

The disease is spread through person -o-person contact so it is very important to wash hands frequently.

It can also be spread through the air. When a person with the disease vomits, some of the matter can be aerosolized or air borne and can be breathed in so it is very important for healthy people to avoid areas where someone has vomited, Hunt said.

A lot of people have been calling the disease the stomach flu but flu is an upper respiratory disease. Technically it is viral gastroenteritis and the bottom line is it makes people feel crummy, Hunt said.

The disease has been showing up at Pratt Regional Medical Center emergency room and other cases of it have been reported in Kiowa County.