MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — After an awful start to the flu season, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) now reports the state is on track to experience one of its worst years for norovirus.

The health department says it has seen nearly 45 outbreaks since last month in places like restaurants, schools, nursing homes and private gatherings.

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While norovirus is commonly called the “stomach flu,” the health department says that is misleading.

Dr. Kirk Smith, Director of Foodborne Illnesses at MDH, said Tuesday that the flu virus and the norovirus are completely different.

“A lot of people shorten ‘stomach flu’ to ‘flu’, which is totally different than influenza, and it’s really an unfortunate usage of the term,” Smith said.

The flu is a respiratory disease and there is a vaccine while the norovirus is the most common cause of intestinal disease and there is no vaccine for it.

Smith says it is unclear why norovirus outbreaks always increase during the winter.

“It might have something to do with better survival of the virus on surfaces during winter,” Smith said.

However, Smith said it has nothing to do with the bad flu season hitting Minnesota.

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“It may just be just coincidental bad luck,” he said.

While norovirus made it into international headlines around this time last year for outbreaks on cruise ships, Smith says norovirus is happening everywhere all the time.

It is only carried and passed by humans and most outbreaks happen when someone passes it through preparing food for others.

Norovirus causes vomiting, diarrhea, body aches and sometimes low grade fever, according to MDH.

Smith said the symptoms usually go away after about two days, but no one with the virus should prepare food for others until a few days after the symptoms disappear.

The health department reports the worst year for norovirus in Minnesota was 2006-2007 when there was a new strain of the virus, but that does not seem to be the case this year.

Rehydration and rest are the only ways to get through the virus.

The best method for prevention is to wash hands thoroughly and often.

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Smith said only about one percent of those suffering from norovirus visit the hospital, and those people usually have other medical conditions.