How to Protect Yourself Against Norovirus So You Don’t Get Sick
Noroviruses, a group of viruses that cause inflammation of the stomach and large intestine, are the leading cause of gastroenteritis (stomach flu) and foodborne disease outbreaks in the U.S.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that Norovirus results in 19-21 million illnesses, 56-71,000 hospitalizations, and 570-800 deaths each year.
Norovirus is highly contagious and typically spread through food or water that’s been contaminated by fecal matter during preparation. You can also catch the illness via close contact with an infected person or by touching contaminated surfaces.
Signs and Symptoms of Norovirus
You may have norovirus if you’re experiencing these signs and symptoms:
- Abdominal pain/cramps
- Low-grade fever
- Muscle pain
Symptoms normally begin 24-48 hours after exposure and usually last one to three days. Keep in mind that some people with norovirus show no signs or symptoms but are still contagious and may spread it to others.
Diagnosis + Treatment for Norovirus
Diagnosis of norovirus is usually based on your symptoms. However, it can be diagnosed by testing a stool sample.
There’s no medication for norovirus. It’s a viral infection, so it can’t be treated with antibiotics. If you have norovirus, drink plenty of fluids to replace lost fluid from diarrhea/throwing up and prevent dehydration.
For most people, norovirus goes away within a few days. Recovery time is dependent on the health of an infected person’s immune system. If diarrhea persists and doesn’t go away after several days and/or if you have severe vomiting, abdominal pain or bloody stools, call your doctor for medical attention.
Norovirus peaks between December and April. Although it can be difficult to prevent, there are things you can do to give you and your family the best shot at avoiding it this winter. Here are our top tips:
Wash Your Hands
Proper, frequent handwashing is the absolute best way to prevent norovirus. Always wash your hands before and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, before preparing/eating/handling food, and whenever you’re in contact with common surfaces that carry germs. If you’re exposed to someone sick, wash your hands right away. When caring for someone with norovirus, wash your hands every time you come in contact with the person.
Avoid Touching Your Face
If you’ve been exposed to Norovirus, touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before you’ve washed your hands puts you at higher risk of the virus entering your body. Keeping your hands away from your face is a key prevention step.
Clean Contaminated Surfaces
Keep in mind that an infected person may not show symptoms of norovirus for several days after exposure, so you or someone in your home may have it without knowing. That means surfaces you frequently touch should be kept clean. These include doorknobs, counters, microwaves, fridge handles, tables and chairs, hand railings, faucets, and flush handles. Using a bleach-based cleaner is best.
If you’re sick with norovirus, be sure to immediately clean and disinfect any surfaces that are contaminated by vomit or diarrhea. Do you know how many germs can live in just one gram of poop? Click here to find out.
Wash Your Produce
Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them. Fresh produce, primarily leafy vegetables like spinach, are most often involved in norovirus foodborne illness outbreaks.
Be Careful Eating Oysters
Oysters are a common carrier of norovirus. People get sick from eating undercooked oysters harvested from contaminated waters. When eating oysters, be sure to cook them thoroughly and order them fully cooked at restaurants.
Don’t Prepare Food or Care for Others When Sick
If you become sick with norovirus, you shouldn’t prepare/cook food or provide healthcare for at least two days after your symptoms are gone.
Wash Contaminated Laundry
For any clothes or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool, remove and wash them immediately. Wear rubber gloves when handling soiled laundry.
Learn more about norovirus and handwashing with our Quick Facts sheet and in this article featuring Dr. Christine Prue, Associate Director for Behavioral Science, National Center for Emerging & Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, at the CDC.