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Simple steps to prevent the spread of noroviruses

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Noroviruses are a group of related viruses. Infection with these viruses causes gastroenteritis, which is inflammation of the stomach and intestines. This leads to stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Anyone can be infected with noroviruses and get sick. Also, you can get norovirus illness more than once during your life. The illness often begins suddenly. You may feel very sick, with stomach cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Noroviruses are the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the United States. CDC estimates that each year on average 19 to 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis are caused by noroviruses. That means about 1 in every 15 Americans will get norovirus illness each year. Norovirus is also estimated to cause 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations and 570 to 800 deaths each year in the United States.

You may hear norovirus illness called "food poisoning" or "stomach flu." It is true that food poisoning can be caused by noroviruses. But, other germs and chemicals can also cause food poisoning. Norovirus illness is not related to the flu (influenza), which is a respiratory illness caused by influenza virus.

Symptoms of norovirus infection usually include cramping, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Other, less common symptoms may include low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and general sense of fatigue.
Norovirus illness is usually not serious. Most people get better in 1 to 3 days. But, norovirus illness can be serious in young children, the elderly, and people with other health conditions. It can lead to severe dehydration, hospitalization and even death.

You may get dehydrated if you are not able to drink enough liquids to replace the fluids lost from vomiting or having diarrhea many times a day. Symptoms of dehydration include a decrease in urination, a dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when standing up. Children who are dehydrated may also cry with few or no tears and be unusually sleepy or fussy.

Norovirus can spread quickly from person to person in crowded, closed places like nursing homes, daycare centers, schools, hotels, and cruise ships. Noroviruses can also be a major cause of outbreaks in restaurants and catered-meal settings if contaminated food is served.

The viruses are found in the vomit and stool of infected people. You can get it by

• Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus

• Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth

• Having direct contact with a person who is infected with norovirus, for example, when caring for someone with norovirus or sharing foods or eating utensils with them

People with norovirus illness are contagious from the moment they begin feeling sick until at least 3 days after they recover. But, some people may be contagious for even longer.

Wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet and changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food. If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. These alcohol-based products can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but they are not a substitute for washing with soap and water.

See the infographic for more information on preventing the spread of noroviruses, and visit the CDC website.

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