First it was the flu, now the Iowa Department of Public Health says there have been several cases of norovirus reported.

Doctor Patricia Quinlisk is the department’s medical director, and says they are concerned because the reports show groups of people hit. “From schools, long-term cares and even business places of people getting norovirus and having a quite a significant spread among all the people there,” Quinlisk says.

Quinlisk says the virus packs a short, but powerful punch.”Somehow it gets into your mouth and down into your intestinal track and causes usually two to three days of pretty significant diarrhea, sometimes vomiting, nausea, you just don’t feel very good,” according to Quinlisk. “But fortunately after a couple of days it usually goes away and there’s no really long-term consequences of it. But like I said — it can make you pretty darn miserable for several days.”

There’s nothing you can do once you contract it. “There’s not treatment for it, the main thing is you have to stay hydrated obviously if you got nausea, vomiting, diarrhea it’ shard sometimes, especially for little kids or older people to stay hydrated,” Quinlisk explains. “But that is probably the most critical thing. The thing that hospitalizes people is not the norovirus itself, but the dehydration.”

Quinlisk says it is very important for you to stay home if you start experiencing the symptoms to prevent the spread of the virus. “Once you get the environment contaminated, basically a lot of other people are going to pick it up. And they pick it up very easily by touching doorknobs and handles and things. And you just want anybody whose got that diarrhea not around anybody else. They should go home, stay home,” she says.

It’s especially important if you are involved in food preparation. Quinlisk says people think using hand sanitize or just washing their hands well will keep them from spreading it. “No — that doesn’t work. Hand gels actually don’t do anything for this virus. And we’ve had outbreaks where people say that they wash their hands really well and they still spread it,” Quinlisk says. “Washing hands — while it will reduce the risk of spreading — if you are in food handling, you need to just not work.”

The flu has also hit Iowa hard this year, and Quinlisk says there are some key distinctions in the two. “Influenza basically is a respiratory disease. It’s going to give you a cough, sore throat, runny nose, basically the respiratory symptom kinds of problems,” Quinlisk says. “If you’ve got diarrhea, nausea , vomiting — that’s norovirus — and unfortunately the flu shot is not going to give you any protection at all — it’s a totally different virus.”

For more information on norovirus visit the Iowa Department of Public Health website.