Noroviruses are a group of related viruses that are highly contagious. You can get norovirus from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. Infection with these viruses affects the stomach and intestines and causes an illness called gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines).
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 between 19-21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis; 1.7–1.9 million outpatient visits and 400,000 emergency department visits, primarily in young children; and about 56,000–71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths, mostly among young children and older adults.
About 1 in every 15 individuals in the US will get norovirus illness annually. By five years of age, one out of every 14 children will visit an emergency room and one out of 278 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 with noroviruses and get sick. 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.
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 medicine. 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, but are not a substitute for, hand washing with soap and water, which is more effective at removing norovirus particles.
After someone vomits or has diarrhea, it is important to clean and disinfect. 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.
No vaccines are currently 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.