What is Norovirus?

Q: I’ve heard about the flu going around but now norovirus? What is that?

A: Norovirus infection is highly contagious. It is commonly spread through food or water contaminated by fecal matter during preparation. It can also be acquired through close contact with an infected person, for instance, if you live in a nursing home or work in a day care facility.

Typically, people with norovirus infection develop diarrhea and abdominal pain and begin to vomit within 24 to 48 hours of exposure. Other symptoms include nausea, abdominal pain, abdominal cramps, weight loss, malaise and low-grade fever. The symptoms usually last one to three days and most people recover without treatment.

Some people with norovirus infection may show no signs or symptoms. However, they are still contagious and may unwittingly spread the virus to others.

Help prevent norovirus infection from spreading.

  • Wash your hands. Thorough hand-washing, especially after using the toilet or changing a diaper, can reduce the risk of transmission.
  • Avoid contaminated food and water. Don't eat shellfish that may have come from contaminated waters. Throw out any food that may have been prepared by someone who was sick.
  • Disinfect virus-contaminated areas. Use a chlorine bleach solution. Where possible, allow bleach to stay on surfaces longer than 10 minutes.
  • Stay home from work. This is especially important if you work in a food-handling job. You may be contagious as long as three days after your symptoms end.

Seek medical attention if you develop diarrhea that doesn't go away within several days. Also call your doctor if you experience severe vomiting, bloody stools, abdominal pain or dehydration.

In some cases, severe dehydration, malnutrition and even death can result from norovirus infection, especially among children and among older and immunocompromised adults in hospitals or nursing homes. 

By Erica Stoeger, NP, ThedaCare Physicians -New London.