PROVO — A suspected stomach flu that hit LDS missionaries in the Missionary Training Center has been nearly contained, Utah County health officials said Thursday.

Lance Madigan, spokesman for the Utah County Health Department, said samples are being processed and the department should know Friday exactly what is ailing the sick missionaries, who are preparing to serve around the world for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The health department suspects an outbreak of Norovirus, an extremely contagious and fast-moving virus with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and sometimes fever, Madigan said. Many people who believe they have caught the "24-hour flu" have actually contracted Norovirus, he said.

"People (with Norovirus) are just really sick for 24 to 48 hours," he said. "Once it passes the system, they get over it and recover rather quickly."

Approximately 20 cases were initially reported to the health department by the MTC's clinic on Dec. 31, jumping to nearly 140 the next day, Madigan said. The number of missionaries being treated was down to about 20 as of Thursday night.

Scott Trotter, spokesman for the LDS Church, said approximately 250 missionaries were affected over several days. The MTC is working to prevent the illness from spreading, and all missionaries must be well before traveling to their assigned missions.

"Sick individuals are being treated by skilled doctors and are receiving the best care available. The MTC is taking steps to keep others from getting sick," Trotter said. "MTC officials continue to emphasize precautionary measures for staff, teachers and missionaries such as hand-washing, proper hygiene and limiting contact with others."

Norovirus is easily spread, making a community like the MTC a perfect target, Madigan said.

"It takes very little of the virus to actually pass on and make another person ill," he said. "People all kind of congregate in the same areas, eat in the same place, and it's very easily spread."

Madigan commended the MTC's efforts to reinforce precautionary measures and stop the virus' spread.

"The numbers have dropped off significantly," he said. "We think they're getting ahead of it."


Twitter: @McKenzieRomero