Norovirus infections

The norovirus group of viruses causes acute gastroenteritis, commonly called a stomach bug or food poisoning. It has also been known as the “Norwalk-line virus” group.

Noroviruses spread from person to person through direct contact or contaminated food, water and surfaces and leads to a host of common symptoms. They are recognised as the leading cause of food borne-disease outbreaks in the United States, according to CDC.

How does it spread?

Noroviruses are highly contagious and therefore are prone to spread rapidly, especially within confined spaces, such as schools, hospitals and nursing homes. The likelihood of catching the virus is therefore also higher in winter months, when people stay indoors more.

Anyone can become infected and the virus often survives for days at a time within a contaminated area, the NHS states.

You can catch a norovirus by:

  • Consuming food or drink that has been contaminated
  • Touching objects and surfaces that have come into contact with the virus and then bringing the hands to the mouth
  • Having direct contact with someone who is already infected, by caring for them and/or sharing food, drinks and utensils with them

It is possible to become infected again after having a norovirus infection, as immunity usually wears off after a short period of time. A person is infectious once they have started showing symptoms of the illness and can remain contagious for up to 2 weeks afterwards.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of a norovirus infection include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Stomach pains

The onset of symptoms usually takes place one to two days after infection, but can also start as early as 12 hours afterwards. The sufferer usually experiences initial nausea, which is followed by intense vomiting and diarrhoea.

[adsense] Other symptoms may include:

  • A raised temperature
  • Aching limbs
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

Extensive vomiting and diarrhoea can sometimes lead to dehydration (when the body has lost too much water). This is most common in the very young and elderly, according to the NHS. Common symptoms of mild dehydration include:

  • Headaches and tiredness
  • Dizziness and feeling light-headed
  • Dry mouth, lips and eyes
  • Passing dark, concentrated urine in small amounts and at infrequent periods (fewer than three of four times a day)

Severe dehydration can lead to more severe symptoms such as dry, wrinkled skin, an inability to pass urine, a weak pulse and a low level of consciousness. Mild dehydration is easily treated by drinking lots of water, but in extreme cases can be fatal. If you suspect that you or another sufferer may be severely dehydrated, seek medical assistance immediately.

Without complications, symptoms can last between 12 and 60 hours, but most sufferers experience a full recovery within two to three days.

How is it treated?

The best way to treat a norovirus infection is by staying at home, getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids to replace those that are lost through vomiting and diarrhoea.

It is important to eat light food, which is easy to digest, such as soup, rice, pasta or bread. Babies should be given their normal feed throughout the illness. Try to stay at home for at least 48 hours and wash your hands regularly to minimise the spread of the virus.

If symptoms persist after 3 days or you suspect severe dehydration, seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

Click here to read more about Food Poisoning.

Images: Wikimedia Commons

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