Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines, leading to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. It is commonly known as the “stomach flu,” although it is not related to the influenza virus. The virus is spread through contact with an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. Outbreaks are most common in closed settings such as cruise ships, long-term care facilities, and schools. In this blog, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and prevention of norovirus, as well as what to do if you or someone you know is infected.
How is norovirus spread?
Norovirus is highly contagious and can spread easily through various means. Some of the most common ways norovirus is spread include:
- Person-to-person contact: The virus can spread easily from person to person through close contact, such as shaking hands or hugging an infected person.
- Contaminated food or water: The virus can also spread through consuming contaminated food or water. This can happen when food is prepared or handled by an infected person, or when water is contaminated with the virus.
- Touching contaminated surfaces: The virus can also spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, such as door handles or countertops.
- Airborne transmission: The virus can also spread through the air when an infected person vomits or sneezes, and the droplets are inhaled by others nearby.
- Fomites: The virus can also survive on surfaces and objects, such as clothes, bedding, and personal items. The virus can be spread through contact with these surfaces and objects.
It’s important to note that the virus can be spread by an infected person even before symptoms appear and for a few days after symptoms have resolved, thus making it important to practice good hygiene and to avoid close contact with infected individuals.
The symptoms of norovirus can appear within 12 to 48 hours of exposure to the virus. The most common symptoms include:
- Stomach pain: The virus can cause stomach cramps, discomfort or pain.
- Nausea: The virus can cause feelings of sickness, or the urge to vomit.
- Diarrhea: The virus can cause loose, watery stools.
- Vomiting: The virus can cause the expulsion of stomach contents through the mouth.
- Fatigue: The virus can cause weakness, fatigue or exhaustion.
- Low-grade fever: Some people may experience a slight fever.
- Headaches: Some people may experience headaches.
- Muscle aches: Some people may experience muscle aches or body pains.
Symptoms usually last for one to three days, and most people recover without any complications. However, it’s important to seek medical attention if symptoms persist or if you have a compromised immune system, as the virus can be fatal in some cases.
How long does last?
- The symptoms of norovirus usually last for one to three days. However, the virus can still be present in the body for a few days after symptoms have resolved, which means that an infected person can still spread the virus. The virus can also remain in the stool for up to two weeks after the symptoms have resolved, so it’s important to practice good hygiene during this time.
- The duration of the illness can vary depending on the person’s immune system, overall health and the severity of the symptoms. Some people may experience mild symptoms and recover quickly, while others may have more severe symptoms and take longer to recover.
- It’s important to note that even after the symptoms have resolved, it’s important to continue practicing good hygiene and to avoid close contact with other people, especially those with compromised immune systems, until at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhea or vomiting to avoid spreading the virus.
How can I prevent norovirus?
There are several ways to prevent norovirus from spreading:
- Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food.
- Avoid close contact with infected individuals: Stay away from people who are sick, and avoid sharing personal items such as towels or bedding.
- Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces: Clean and disinfect surfaces that may have been contaminated with the virus, such as door handles or countertops.
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly: Rinse fruits and vegetables under running water before eating or cooking.
- Cook seafood thoroughly: Cook shellfish and other seafood thoroughly to kill any norovirus present.
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked oysters: Oysters are known to carry norovirus and should be fully cooked before eating.
- Stay home when you are sick: If you have norovirus symptoms, stay home until at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhea or vomiting to avoid spreading the virus.
- Get vaccinated: Some groups of people, such as older adults and people with certain medical conditions, can get a norovirus vaccine.
- Avoid cruise ships: Cruise ships are known to have frequent norovirus outbreaks.
By following these prevention measures, you can reduce your risk of contracting norovirus and help prevent the spread of the virus to others.
- There is no specific treatment for norovirus infection. The virus typically clears up on its own within one to three days. Treatment is mainly focused on relieving symptoms and preventing dehydration.
- It is recommended to drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to prevent dehydration. Clear liquids such as water, broth, frozen water or ice pops, clear soda, or sports drinks (such as Gatorade) can help to replace fluids that are lost due to vomiting and diarrhea.
- Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help ease symptoms such as stomach pain, fever and headaches. However, it’s best to avoid anti-diarrheal medication as it can prolong the infection.
- If you have norovirus symptoms, it is important to stay home and avoid close contact with other people, especially those with compromised immune systems, until at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhea or vomiting to avoid spreading the virus.
- It’s important to seek medical attention if you have severe symptoms such as severe dehydration, blood in the stool, high fever or if the symptoms persist for more than a few days. People with weakened immune systems or underlying health conditions may be at a higher risk of complications and should see a doctor as soon as they develop symptoms.
Can Norovirus be fatal?
Norovirus is usually a self-limiting illness, meaning it resolves on its own within a few days. However, in some cases, it can lead to severe dehydration and other complications, which can be fatal.
The risk of severe complications and death from norovirus is generally low, but it is more likely in certain groups of people, such as:
- very young children
- older adults
- people with weakened immune systems
- people with underlying health conditions, such as heart or lung disease
Dehydration is the most common complication of norovirus. Symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth and throat, dizziness, and dark-colored urine. If you suspect dehydration, you should seek medical attention immediately.
In very rare cases, norovirus can lead to more serious complications, such as pneumonia or meningitis, which can be fatal.
It’s important to seek medical attention if you have severe symptoms or if the symptoms persist for more than a few days, especially if you are part of a high-risk group.
How common is Norovirus?
- Norovirus is one of the most common causes of acute gastroenteritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines that causes diarrhea and vomiting. It’s estimated that norovirus causes 19-21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis in the United States annually.
- Norovirus is highly contagious and can spread easily, especially in crowded places such as cruise ships, nursing homes, and schools. It’s also common in closed environments like offices, dormitories, and childcare facilities. Outbreaks occur year-round, but are more common during the winter months.
- Norovirus is a global public health concern, and it’s estimated that norovirus causes about 200,000 deaths annually worldwide, mostly in young children and older adults.
- It’s important to note that many cases of norovirus go unreported, so the actual number of cases may be higher. It’s also important to understand that the virus can spread easily and quickly, so it’s important to practice good hygiene and follow preventive measures to reduce the risk of contracting norovirus and spreading it to others.
Can norovirus be spread through food?
Yes, norovirus can be spread through food. The virus can survive on surfaces and objects, such as
fruits, vegetables, and raw or undercooked shellfish can be spread to people who consume contaminated food or water.
Food can become contaminated with norovirus in a number of ways, including:
- During harvesting, growing or processing, if the food comes in contact with norovirus-contaminated water or sewage.
- During preparation, if an infected person handles the food without properly washing their hands.
- During service, if an infected person handles the food.
Some examples of food that are known to carry norovirus include:
- Leafy greens, such as lettuce and spinach.
- Fresh fruits, such as berries and melons.
- Shellfish, such as oysters, clams and mussels.
- Cold, ready-to-eat foods, such as deli meats and salads.
It’s important to practice good food hygiene and wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating or cooking, and to cook seafood thoroughly to kill any norovirus present. Avoiding raw or undercooked oysters is also recommended.
It’s also important to be careful when consuming food from potentially risky sources, such as
buffets, salad bars, and other self-service areas, and to avoid food that may have been prepared or handled by someone who is ill.
Long term effect?
Norovirus is a highly contagious viral infection that causes stomach and intestinal inflammation, leading to symptoms such as
- stomach cramps
In most cases, the infection resolves on its own within a few days, and there are typically no long-term effects.
However, in some cases, norovirus can lead to dehydration, which can be serious for certain groups of people, such as young children, older adults, or people with weakened immune systems.
Additionally, people with underlying health conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease may be at risk for complications.