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Home » Norovirus — highly contagious stomach virus hitting the USA

Norovirus — highly contagious stomach virus hitting the USA


Cases of norovirus, a highly contagious virus that causes symptoms that are often described as the “stomach flu” or food poisoning, are rising quickly in many areas of the United States. The virus is very common and is highly contagious.

Even though a lot of people call a norovirus infection the “stomach flu,” it is not a flu nor is it related to the influenza virus that causes the flu. A flu infection rarely has gastrointestinal symptoms like a norovirus infection.

This article will review the disease and then look at prevention and treatment.

woman in gray tank top norovirus
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What is norovirus?

According to the CDC, norovirus is a leading cause of acute gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the lining of the stomach and intestines. This can result in intense bouts of vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps.

Symptoms of norovirus infection usually begin 12 to 48 hours after exposure — the symptoms are often sudden and very unpleasant, but most people will recover without further medical issues. Norovirus is extremely contagious, and anyone can become infected.

Although the virus spreads year-round, infections are most common during the winter months when people tend to spend more time gathered indoors, which makes it easier for infectious diseases like norovirus to spread quickly between individuals.

Infected individuals can shed billions of norovirus particles in their stool and vomit, and it only requires a few virus particles to infect another individual. People usually contract norovirus when the particles end up in their mouths. This can occur through person-to-person contact, consuming contaminated foods or liquids, or touching contaminated surfaces then then touching something that goes into your mouth like food. Moreover, norovirus may be transmitted by particles in the air such as what is found in public restrooms.

According to the CDC, norovirus causes about 20 million cases of vomiting and diarrhea, 465,000 emergency room visits, 109,000 hospitalizations, and 900 deaths in the USA. Even though most people recover rather quickly from the infection, a large percentage of those who contract the disease will be hospitalized and about 1% of the hospitalized group will die.

2024 Norovirus outbreaks in the USA

Outbreaks of norovirus have been rising during the past few months. From 1 August 2023 through 12 February 2024, there have been 759 outbreaks reported by 15 states that participate in the CDC’s NoroSTAT surveillance program. During the same period last year, there were only 521 outbreaks reported in the same group of states.

The Northeast section of the country has had the highest rate of infection since April 2023 according to NBC News. And according to recent CDC data, over 16% of tests from the region came back positive for the virus.

Treatment

There is no treatment for the virus and the vast majority of individuals who contract the virus will recover at home without medical intervention. There is nothing you can do to “cure” the disease other than time.

However, since diarrhea and vomiting can lead to dehydration, the CDC recommends that one should replace fluids with sports drinks and other drinks without caffeine or alcohol. However, these drinks may not replace the nutrients lost.

Dehydration can lead to serious problems. Severe dehydration may require hospitalization for treatment with fluids given through your vein (intravenous or IV fluids).

Parents are warned to watch for signs of dehydration in children who have the virus. Dehydrated children may cry with few or no tears and be unusually sleepy or fussy. At this point, it would be important for the child to be seen by a medical professional to reduce the risk of serious consequences.

person washing his hand
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Prevention

Currently, there is no vaccine for norovirus. However, there is a new vaccine in early clinical trials that showed a 54% reduction in symptoms from norovirus in the vaccinated compared to the placebo group. Unfortunately, this vaccine is several years away from FDA approval.

Like with other infectious diseases, like COVID, washing your hands for 20 seconds, especially after using a bathroom, is one of the best methods to preventing the disease. Norovirus is particularly hardy, so disinfecting surfaces may not kill all of the virus. Bleach is your best bet in killing the virus.

If you have contracted the disease, try to stay away from others, wash your hands frequently, especially after using the toilet, and wash anything you might touch, like kitchen utensils. This won’t do anything for the course of the disease, but it may help keep it from spreading to friends and family.

Norovirus is mostly not a dangerous disease. However, it can be deadly, especially if a person becomes severely dehydrated. Even if you don’t end up with severe symptoms and require hospitalization, the disease is very annoying. But with a few precautions, it might be easy to avoid norovirus.

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Michael Simpson

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