MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A new strain of norovirus in Minnesota could mean more norovirus illnesses, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) announced Tuesday.

According to the health agency, the new strain is called GII.17 Kawasaki and caused many outbreaks in Asia last winter before arriving in the U.S.

The new strain showed up in sporadic cases in Minnesota earlier this year. The first outbreak caused by the new strain was reported last week.

“Every few years, a new strain of norovirus emerges and causes many illnesses. We don’t know yet if this new strain will lead to an increase in the number of outbreaks reported, but it could,” Amy Saupe, a foodborne disease epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), said. “If we’re meticulous about washing our hands and handling food properly, we may be able to limit the impact.”

Norovirus illnesses are often mistakenly identified as stomach flu. Norovirus, however, is not related to influenza.

“When people say that they have ‘stomach flu,’ referring to a short illness with diarrhea and/or vomiting, what they generally have is a norovirus infection,” Saupe said.

Norovirus is the most common cause of food-related illness in Minnesota, according to MDH.

The MDH stresses that illness and outbreaks can be prevented through good handwashing and appropriate food handling.

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