DES PLAINES, Ill. (CBS) – Reports of the highly contagious norovirus have steadily increased in Chicago area schools this month.

As of Monday, hundreds of suspected cases had been reported in Cook County.

The Centers for Disease Control say children are especially prone to spreading the norovirus in the colder months of the year.

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But anyone can catch it – through food and drink, or after simply touching a microwave, a door handle, or a faucet. The and virus can live for days on surfaces.

The Cook County Department of Public Health issued an alert to suburban schools last week.

Experts have confirmed infections consistent with the norovirus – that nasty stomach bug often contracted on cruise ships – in more than two dozen areas in the south and northwest suburbs.

Most recently, an outbreak at public schools in Des Plaines has been drawing concern. In a message on the Web site for Des Plaines School District 62, Supt. Dr. Jane L. Westerhold advised that any child who becomes sick with a gastrointestinal illness should see their doctor, and stay home for one day after symptoms end.

Westerhold also advised parents to ensure that their children wash their hands regularly at home with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

Also, parents are advised to clean table tops, doorknobs and other surfaces if they are contaminated with vomit from a sick person, using bleach solution made up of 1/4 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water.

The norovirus is often called the stomach flu, although it is not related to influenza. People who contract the norovirus often suffer from nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping, and may also have a low-grade fever, chills, head and muscle aches, and a sense of fatigue, the CDC says.

Usually, the symptoms of the norovirus resolve themselves after about two days. But sometimes, people might become dehydrated as they find themselves unable to drink enough fluids to replace what is lost by vomiting and diarrhea. The very young, the elderly and people with other medical complications are the most likely to get dehydrated, the CDC says.