What Exactly Is Norovirus and How to Protect Yourself from It
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What Exactly Is Norovirus and How to Protect Yourself from It

News Staff — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Nov 27, 2017

Over 80% of reported outbreaks occur from November to April.

(Washington, DC) — Noroviruses are a group of related viruses that can cause inflammation of the stomach or intestines, also known as gastroenteritis (GAS-tro-en-ter-I-tis). This leads to cramping, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. (Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Norovirus Is the Most Common Cause of Gastroenteritis in the U.S.

CDC estimates that each year in the United States norovirus causes 19 to 21 million illnesses, 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations, and 570 to 800 deaths. Anyone can get infected with norovirus, and you can get it more than once. It is estimated that a person will get norovirus about 5 times during their lifetime. Norovirus outbreaks occur throughout the year. But, over 80% of reported outbreaks occur from November to April.

Norovirus Symptoms

Common symptoms:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain

Less common symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches

Norovirus spreads quickly. It is found in the vomit and poop of infected people. You can get it by:

  • Having direct physical contact with a person who is infected with norovirus, for example, caring for or shaking hands with an ill person and then touching your hands to your mouth
  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus
  • Touching surfaces or objects with norovirus on them and then putting your hands in your mouth

People with norovirus illness are most contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill and for the first few days after they recover. Some people may be contagious for even longer.

There is currently no vaccine available to prevent norovirus infection or drug to treat sick people. Learn how to protect yourself and others by following a few simple steps.

Protect Yourself and Others from Norovirus

  • Practice proper hand hygiene
    Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially 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 help reduce the number of germs on your hands, but they are not a substitute for washing with soap and water.
  • Handle and prepare food safely
    Carefully rinse fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating.
    People with norovirus illness should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for at least 2 days after they recover from their illness.
  • Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces
    After someone vomits or has diarrhea, put on disposable gloves to immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label. If no such cleaning product is available, you can use a solution made with 5 tablespoons to 1.5 cups of household bleach per 1 gallon of water. Always clean up the entire area immediately after someone with norovirus vomits or has diarrhea. It will help keep others from getting sick from norovirus. (Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • Wash laundry thoroughly
    Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or poop. Handle soiled items carefully—try not to shake them —to avoid spreading the virus. If available, wear disposable gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash your hands after handling. Wash soiled items with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dry.

Common Norovirus Outbreak Settings

Norovirus spreads quickly from person to person in enclosed places like nursing homes, daycare centers, schools, and cruise ships. It is also a major cause of outbreaks in restaurants and catered-meal settings if contaminated food is served or people handing food are ill.

Many Names, Same Symptoms

You may hear norovirus illness called "food poisoning" or "stomach flu." Norovirus can cause foodborne illness, as can other germs and chemicals.

Norovirus illness is not related to the flu (influenza). Though they may share some of the same symptoms, the flu is a respiratory illness caused by an influenza virus.

Most people with norovirus illness get better in 1 to 3 days. But it can be more serious in young children, the elderly, and people with other health conditions. It can lead to severe dehydration, hospitalization and even death. To learn more about dehydration and how to prevent and treat it see norovirus treatment.

Click here to watch a short video from the CDC on the norovirus.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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