Pathogens 101 | Norovirus

What is Norovirus? Norovirus

Norovirus is a leading cause of foodborne illness. You can get norovirus from contaminated food or water, an infected person, or by touching contaminated surfaces. Norovirus causes inflammation of the stomach, intestines or both. This is called acute gastroenteritis. This leads you to have stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Quick Facts about Norovirus.

Anyone can be infected with norovirus and get sick. Also, you can have norovirus illness many times in your life. Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States. Each year, it causes about 21 million illnesses and contributes to about 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths. If you have norovirus illness, you can feel extremely ill and throw up or have diarrhea many times a day. This can lead to dehydration, especially in young children, older adults, and people with other illnesses. Most people with norovirus illness get better within 1 to 3 days, however, it can be serious for some people, especially young children and older adults.

Norovirus and food
Norovirus is a leading cause of illness from contaminated food in the United States.
Foods commonly involved in outbreaks include:

  • leafy greens (such as lettuce, spinach)
  • fresh fruits
  • shellfish (such as oysters)

However, any food served raw or handled after being cooked can get contaminated.

Most common symptoms of Norovirus:

  • diarrhea
  • throwing up
  • nausea
  • stomach pain

Other symptoms:

  • fever
  • headache
  • body aches

Symptoms of dehydration:

  • decrease in urination
  • dry mouth and throat
  • feeling dizzy when standing up

*Children who are dehydrated may cry with few or no tears and be unusually sleepy or fussy.

Treating Norovirus

  • There is no specific medicine to treat people with norovirus illness. Antibiotic drugs will not help because antibiotics fight against bacteria not viruses.
  • If you have norovirus illness, you should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluid lost from throwing up and diarrhea. This will help prevent dehydration.
  • Dehydration can lead to serious problems.
  • Severe dehydration may require hospitalization for treatment with fluids given through your veins (intravenous or IV fluids). If you or someone you are caring for is severely dehydrated, call the doctor.
  • Sports drinks and other drinks without caffeine or alcohol can help with mild dehydration. But, these drinks may not replace important nutrients and minerals.
  • Oral rehydration fluids that you can get over the counter are most helpful for mild dehydration.

For more on preventing norovirus infection.

Photo courtesy of CDC/ Charles D. Humphrey

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