Often called the “stomach flu,” norovirus is a highly contagious virus that can infect anyone at any age. Over the past few months, there have been widespread norovirus outbreaks throughout the country. To better understand this illness, consider the following.
What Is it?
Noroviruses cause inflammation of the stomach and/or intestines, which leads to diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting. Because it’s so rugged, the virus is able to live on any surface, such as doorknobs, countertops and, of course, food and water. People usually contract the virus by touching a contaminated surface and then passing the germ to their eyes, noses, ears or mouths. They may also get the virus from eating contaminated food prepared by someone who is already ill.
What Are the Symptoms?
A norovirus infection can cause all sorts of unpleasant symptoms, including:
- Abdominal cramping
- Muscle pain
- Low-grade fever
First symptoms usually start about 12 to 48 hours after exposure. Most people get better within one to three days; however, you can remain contagious for up to two weeks.
When to See a Doctor
While they can make you feel miserable, norovirus infections aren’t usually serious. That said, they can cause complications for the young children, seniors and people with existing immune deficiencies. While it’s generally best to avoid eating while you’re sick, it is important to continue drinking water to avoid dehydration. Be sure to visit your doctor if you demonstrate the following signs of severe dehydration:
- Dry mouth and throat
- Decreased urine output
Reducing Your Risk
Since there’s no cure for norovirus, prevention is the best medicine. You can reduce your risk of infection by washing your hands frequently. You should also avoid infected people and try not to touch your face. Because some studies suggest that alcohol-based hand-sanitizer has no effect on the norovirus, hand-washing is regarded as the best defense against infection.