What Is Norovirus?
Norovirus is a common and highly contagious virus that causes inflammation in the stomach and intestines, a condition known as gastroenteritis. You can get norovirus from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces.
Commonly referred to as food poisoning or a stomach bug, noroviruses are the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the US. Each year in the US, norovirus causes:
- 19-21 million cases of vomiting and diarrhea
- Approximately 109,000 hospitalizations
- Nearly 2.3 million outpatient visits
- More than 450,000 emergency department visits, primarily in young children
- 900 deaths, mostly among adults age 65 years and older.
About 1 in every 15 people in the US will get norovirus illness annually. By age 5 years, 1 out of every 40 children will visit an emergency room and 1 out of 160 children will be hospitalized due to norovirus.
Norovirus outbreaks have been reported in many settings, including healthcare facilities, restaurants and catered events, schools, and childcare centers. Cruise ships account for a small percentage (1%) of reported norovirus outbreaks overall.
Anyone can be infected and get sick with noroviruses. You can get norovirus illness more than once during your lifetime. The illness often begins suddenly. You may feel very sick, with stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Although symptoms usually only last a few days, a person can be infectious more than 2 weeks later.
Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water is the best way to protect yourself and others from norovirus. It is especially important to wash your hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers; before eating, preparing, or handling food; and before giving yourself or someone else medication. Avoid preparing food or caring for others when you are sick. Always carefully wash fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating them. Cook oysters and other shellfish before eating them.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing with soap and water, which is more effective at removing norovirus particles.
It is important to clean and disinfect after someone vomits or has diarrhea. Wear rubber or disposable gloves and wipe the entire area with paper towels. Then disinfect the area using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label. Be sure to clean soiled laundry, take out the trash, and wash your hands thoroughly.
Vaccines are currently not available to prevent norovirus, although research is underway.
If you have norovirus illness, drink plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration which can lead to serious problems. If you think you or someone you are caring for is severely dehydrated, call a healthcare professional.
There are no specific medicines to treat people with norovirus. Antibiotics do not help because they fight bacteria, not viruses.
Reviewed July 2023
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
In honor of World Hand Hygiene Day and Mother’s Day, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) has compiled resources to encourage everyone to follow moms’ advice and wash their hands to help #StopTheSpread of #COVID-19 and other infectious diseases …