Norovirus is a stomach and intestinal virus that’s very contagious. It passes easily through direct or indirect contact with an infected person. It can spread quickly in close quarters such as hospitals, schools, and day care centers. It is thought to be the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis (diarrhea and vomiting illness) around the world. It spreads easily through food and drink and can have a big impact on people’s health.
Norovirus was originally called the Norwalk virus, after the town of Norwalk, OH, where the first confirmed outbreak happened in 1972.
Although norovirus can strike year-round, it’s more common in the winter. People sometimes call it the “winter vomiting bug.” Noroviruses also are sometimes called food poisoning, because they can be transmitted through contaminated food. They aren’t always the result of food contamination, though.
There are many types of noroviruses, and exposure to one type may not protect you from the others.
Typical symptoms includes
• vomiting (more often in children)
• watery non-bloody diarrhea (more often in adults)
• stomach cramps.
These symptoms usually start within 12 to 48 hours of being exposed and can last up to 24 to 72 hours.
Other norovirus symptoms include:
• Low-grade fever
• Muscle aches
Most of these symptoms aren’t serious, but diarrhea and vomiting can deplete your body of the fluid it needs, and you can become dehydrated. Children and the elderly are most susceptible to dehydration, as well as malnutrition from not getting enough nutrients.
It all starts when you come into contact with the virus. It could be lurking on your food. Or perhaps you touch an infected light switch or hold someone’s hand before touching your mouth or nose. That’s when those tiny particles gain entry to your body.
Noroviruses thrive in close quarters, such as restaurants, day-care centers, and nursing homes, because they are hardy and highly contagious. They can survive temperature extremes in water and on surfaces.
When someone with the virus vomits, the virus can spread through the air and contaminate surfaces. The virus also spreads through feces, meaning someone who doesn’t thoroughly wash their hands after using the bathroom can pass it along. Dirty diapers can also harbor norovirus.
Severe diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which should be considered a medical emergency. Signs and symptoms of dehydration include:
• dry mouth and throat
• decreased output of urine or dark urine
• no wet diaper for 6 to 8 hours in infants
• no urine in 12 hours for children
• sunken eyes
• sleepiness and fatigue
• confusion and lethargy
• rapid heart rate
If your child cries without producing tears, that’s a common sign of significant dehydration. Seek medical care right away. They might also act fussy and irritable.
The virus can be identified in a sample of your stool if done within 48 to 72 hours after symptoms start. In some cases, norovirus can be detected in stool for up to 14 days or even longer.
There’s no special medicine for norovirus. It’s not a bacterial infection, so antibiotics won’t help. Treatment is mainly supportive, with a goal of preventing dehydration. Here are some self-care tips:
Don’t push yourself. Stay home and rest.
▪︎ Replenish fluids
Drink plenty of fluids. To replace electrolytes, oral hydration solutions, like Pedialyte, are recommended for all ages. They’re especially necessary in infants and children.
Stay away from sugary drinks, as these can worsen diarrhea. You should also avoid drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol.
▪︎ Continue your diet
Infants should continue breastfeeding or formula feeding while being rehydrated. For children and adults, as appetite picks up, some good choices are:
• plain noodles
• fresh fruit
• cooked vegetables
• lean proteins like chicken and fish
You can try an over-the-counter (OTC) anti-diarrheal, but not if you have a fever, severe diarrhea, or bloody stools. Don’t give OTC medications to infants or children with vomiting or diarrhea, unless instructed by your doctor. You should start to feel better within a few days.
Norovirus is highly contagious and persistent. There’s no vaccine to prevent it, but there are some things you can do to lower the risk of transmission.
• Wash your hands after using the toilet, changing a diaper, or caring for a sick person. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• When caring for a sick person, wear gloves and use plastic bags to dispose of soiled materials or diapers. Use disinfectant or a chlorine bleach solution on contaminated surfaces. .
• Don’t consume food or beverages prepared by a sick person.
• Wash your hands before preparing or eating food.
• Wash all produce before cutting into or eating it.
• Don’t eat raw or undercooked seafood.
• If you’re sick, stay home. This is especially important if you work in food service, healthcare, or education. Sick children shouldn’t attend school, day care, or other activities.
• Put off travel plans until you’re fully recovered.
• Don’t use public swimming pools when you have diarrhea.
Remember, you can still spread the virus for up to two weeks after symptoms subside.
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