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Communicable diseases: An overview of norovirus

You may have had what you thought was food poisoning or the stomach flu in the past. If you have, your illness may have been caused by a group of viruses collectively known as noroviruses. Noroviruses are, in fact, responsible for many food poisoning cases. But “stomach flu” is a misnomer becauses noroviruses are not related to influenza. They are, however, the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis - also known as AGE. Each year, 15 to 25 million cases of noroviruses are reported in the United States. And of those cases, about 50,000 to 70,000 require hospitalization. Approximately 500 to 1000 deaths from norovirus are reported annually, as well.

How is norovirus transmitted?

Norovirus is a highly contagious pathogen that can infect anybody, but the very young and the very old are particularly susceptible. And since there are so many types of noroviruses, the human system has a difficult time building up sufficient immunity to them. In other words, building an immunity against one type doesn’t necessarily guarantee immunity against another type. Noroviruses can be spread in many ways. The viruses can be spread by touching contaminated surfaces then putting your fingers in your mouth. They can be spread by eating or drinking after a contaminated person. They can also be transmitted through fecal material by changing diapers or not washing hands after using the restroom. Norovirus is notorious for causing mass illness in people who work in close proximity or who gather in large groups such as in schools, daycare facilities, nursing homes, hotels, and cruise ships.

Symptoms of norovirus

Noroviruses cause inflammation throughout the gastrointestinal tract - a condition known as gastroenteritis. The symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, body aches, dizziness, and stomach cramps. These symptoms can last for several days and because they can be severe, dehydration is a major concern. It is very important to drink plenty of fluids and rest. Treatment of norovirus Since antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections, they is no use taking them in hopes of recovering from norovirus faster. In fact, there is no specific drug treatment protocol for norovirus. The most important course of treatment is to stay hydrated with fluids containing electrolytes and sugar such as sports drinks or fruit juices. Though the symptoms often render a person unable to function for a time, the body will usually fight off the virus in a few days with no resulting complications.

Prevention of norovirus

Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to prevent becoming infected with norovirus. Of course you should practice good hygiene and wash your hands before and after eating and after using the restroom. Here are a few more preventative measures:

  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables in a weak vinegar solution before eating them.
  • Keep sick family members away from areas where food is prepared to keep others from becoming ill.
  • Use a bleach solution to clean surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom.
  • Wash bedding, bathroom towels, and kitchen towels in hot water if possible.

Noroviruses are a group of viruses that are highly contagious and cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The symptoms can be quite severe and can include vomiting and diarrhea. But the good news is that the immune system is usually able to get rid of it injusty a few days. The only complication that usually arises is when dehydration occurs. So it is most important to stay hydrated throughout the duration of the illness. Those with norovirus are most contagious during the actual sickness and three days after recovery.


Baylor College of Medicine

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