HCN News & Notes

Know These Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment for Norovirus

SPRINGFIELD — Norovirus, which can infect adults and children throughout the year but is more prevalent from November to April, is now present in the local community.

Norovirus is a very contagious virus that causes inflammation of the stomach or intestines called gastroenteritis, with symptoms occurring 24 to 48 hours after infection. Noroviruses are the leading cause of foodborne illness in the U.S.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus “can result in making you feel extremely ill accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea many times a day,” along with general nausea and abdominal pain. Other symptoms can include fever, headache, and body aches.

“When some people get infected with norovirus, they usually claim they have food poisoning, which is entirely possible, or they refer to their symptoms as having the ‘stomach bug’ or ‘stomach flu,’ while in the U.K. it is called the ‘winter vomiting bug,” said Dr. Armando Paez, chief of Infectious Diseases at Baystate Health.

“The term ‘stomach flu’ is a misnomer because the illness has no relation to the flu, which is caused by the influenza virus, which is primarily a respiratory virus, and is still circulating in our communities,” he went on. “Thankfully, one usually recovers from the symptoms of norovirus infection in two to three days, while the flu can last up to a week with a lingering cough or tiredness for week.”

Like many viral infections, there is no cure for the norovirus infection other than supportive care for symptoms, including replacing fluid losses by drinking oral rehydration solutions containing electrolytes to help to prevent further dehydration; getting plenty of rest; eating only plain foods such as soup, toast, rice, pasta, and saltine crackers; and taking over-the-counter medicines to relieve nausea, fever, and aches, and, with caution, anti-diarrhea agents.

“Older adults, adults with a weakened immune system, and adults with severe diarrhea or symptoms of dehydration should contact their doctors,” Paez said. “Always check with your child’s pediatrician before giving them any over-the-counter medicines, especially Imodium, Pepto-Bismol, or Kaopectate.”

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends that a child with viral gastroenteritis should be given an oral rehydration solution — such as Pedialyte, Naturalyte, Infalyte, and CeraLyte — as directed to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. Oral rehydration solutions are liquids that contain glucose and electrolytes. Talk with a doctor about giving these solutions to an infant. Infants should continue to drink breast milk or formula as usual.

Norovirus is extremely contagious. Individuals can get infected with the virus by accidentally getting tiny particles of feces or vomit from an infected person to their mouth, from eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water, by touching a surface that has become contaminated with the virus and then touching the mouth, or by having direct contact with someone who is infected with norovirus, such as by caring for them or sharing food or eating utensils with them.

“Similar to protecting yourself from many viruses, you should practice proper hand hygiene by washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water to help prevent the spread of norovirus. Unfortunately, hand sanitizers usually do not work against this virus,” Paez said.

Also, those who are sick should not prepare food for others until at least two days have passed since symptoms have resolved. Clean and disinfect any area contaminated with vomit or feces that can harbor this virus.