What You Need to Know About Norovirus

You might be hearing this word more frequently lately. But what is it?

Norovirus is the most common cause of what most people refer to as “the stomach flu.” And it happens to be infecting people in most regions of the United States right now. Each year, this virus is very prevalent in the U.S. during November through April.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms typically last from 1 to 3 days. Most people experience varying degrees of:

  • stomach pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

Some people may also have fever, headache, and body aches.

How do you get it?

  • The virus is extremely contagious, especially in crowded settings such as schools, daycares, and cruise ships (fun vacation, right?).
  • Ingesting contaminated food or touching contaminated surfaces and then eating without washing your hands can transmit the virus.
  • Having contact with an infected person can also do the trick.
  • Since you don’t develop immunity to it, you can be infected with this virus many times in your life.

Are you or your child contagious?

  • People are generally considered contagious from the time of the illness’s onset until three days after they feel better.
  • Stool and vomit contain the virus. Stool can continue to contain the virus for 2 weeks after the illness—a fact that daycares would do well to remember.

Treatment?

  • There are no medicines or antibiotics that will kill this virus.
  • The best treatment is drinking plenty of fluids and waiting for your body to clear the virus. (Sports drinks such as Gatorade are fine for mild dehydration, but more severe dehydration will require specifically formulated oral rehydration liquids such as Pedialyte.)
  • Hospitalization may be required for people who become dehydrated. Infants and elderly persons are most at risk for developing dehydration.

Worrisome signs for dehydration

  • decreased urination
  • dry mouth
  • excessive sleepiness
  • when an infant cries without making tears

Prevention?

  • WASH HANDS FREQUENTLY! I can’t emphasize this one enough. Hand washing, particularly after going to the bathroom and before eating, is critical. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used when soap and water are unavailable.
  • Use paper towels, not cloth towels, in the bathroom and kitchen. (I do this year-round because, with three children, there always seems to be some illness circulating. But paper towels are probably most beneficial during winter months.) Sharing cloth hand towels is a sure way to spread the virus from one person to the next.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them.
  • Don’t cook for others if you are sick or have been sick in the past 3 days.
  • Wash clothes soiled with vomit or diarrhea in the hottest setting possible on your washer. Use the “Sanitize” option if one is available.
  • Use diluted bleach preparations to clean bathroom and kitchen surfaces.

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