What You Need to Know about Norovirus

Schools across the Eastern Shore have recently faced a new and stomach-turning outbreak: Norovirus. Commonly referred to as the stomach flu or a stomach bug, norovirus is the leading cause of vomiting, diarrhea, and foodborne illnesses in the United States. Highly contagious and hard to contain, there are over 2,500 U.S. outbreaks reported every year according to the CDC.

Common as it is, norovirus can quickly turn a household on its head. Unfortunately, running to your doctor won’t always help you find relief. From symptoms and spreading to effective treatments, here’s everything you need to know about norovirus.

What is Norovirus?

Norovirus is a group of common and highly contagious viruses that causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines, leading to gastroenteritis. There are many different strains of noroviruses, and infection from one type doesn’t guarantee protection against any other types; this may explain why outbreaks spread so quickly and infect people of all ages.

Although norovirus outbreaks can occur at any time, they’re most common between November and April. Norovirus is commonly referred to as a bug or “the stomach flu”, but the illness is not related to the flu, which is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus.

Norovirus Symptoms

Norovirus illness is characterized by a sudden onset of severe stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Less common symptoms include low-grade fever or chills, headache, and body aches. Symptoms usually occur within 12-24 days of exposure to norovirus and begin to resolve in 1-3 days.

You may feel extremely ill and vomit or have diarrhea several times each day, often without warning. This can lead to dehydration, especially in young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.

How Does Norovirus Spread?

Noroviruses are highly contagious and spread easily in areas like schools, hospitals, restaurants and cruise ships. They are found in the feces (stool) and vomit of infected people, who can shed billions of tiny particles that are invisible to the eye. But it only takes a few microscopic particles to make you and other people extremely sick.

Norovirus can be spread through:

  • Consuming food or liquids that have been contaminated or handled by an infected person.
  • Touching surfaces contaminated with norovirus and then putting your hands in your mouth.
  • Direct contact with an infected person, such as by caring for them or sharing drinks or eating utensils.

You are most contagious when actively symptomatic and for the first three days after you start feeling better.

Norovirus Treatment

Like most viruses, there is no medical cure for norovirus; the illness has to run its course. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and preventing dehydration. This includes:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Oral rehydration fluids like sports drinks or Pedialyte (yes, even for adults!) can help replace essential minerals and nutrients. Begin with small sips and gradually increase your intake every hour as symptoms improve.
  • Wash your hands frequently. Wash your hands well with soap and warm water every time you use the bathroom and before eating or drinking.
  • Get plenty of rest. Keep activities to a minimum and avoid other people as much as possible. Do not prepare food or drinks for other members of your household.
  • Introduce foods slowly. Once symptoms subside, reintroduce foods slowly and remember the BRAT diet: Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast.

Be sure to watch for signs of dehydration. If you suspect severe dehydration, call your doctor or visit your local healthcare clinic immediately. IV hydration may be needed until symptoms subside.

Norovirus Prevention

Norovirus is highly contagious, but there are steps you can take to prevent the spread.

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid consuming food or water that may be contaminated, including anything made by someone who is or has recently been sick.
  • Clean and sanitize any contaminated surfaces with bleach or another effective disinfectant.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Stay home if you are sick! Wait 2-3 days after symptoms are gone before returning to work or school.

When illnesses strike, Urgent Care of Fairhope is here to help protect and improve your family’s health. If you suspect dehydration or need the expertise of a medical professional, visit our walk-in clinic six days per week to receive convenient care close to home. Check our waitlist online before you arrive to see how quickly patients are being seen in our office.

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