Updated: January 11, 2018
A norovirus is a highly contagious infection that contains RNA and is surrounded by a coating of protein. There are at least 25 different strains of norovirus that affect humans. These strains were named based on the city in which they were first identified. One of the most common strain is known as Norwalk virus which can cause the sudden onset of severe vomiting and diarrhea. It spreads easily through food and drink and can have a big impact on your health. You can also get the infection through close contact with an infected person.
Norovirus infection occurs mostly in closed and crowded environments such as hospitals, nursing homes, child care centers, schools and cruise ships. As they are more common in the winter, the infection is sometimes termed as winter vomiting disease. But it can occur round the year. Noroviruses are sometimes called food poisoning, as they can be transmitted through food that has been contaminated with the virus. Norovirus is not related to the influenza virus although some people call this as stomach flu. It is the most common cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks.
The most common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea and stomach cramps. Other norovirus symptoms include:
Signs and symptoms usually begin 12 to 48 hours after first exposure to the virus and last one to three days. Most people recover completely without treatment as these symptoms are not serious. However, vomiting and diarrhea can be severely dehydrating and require medical attention for infants, older adults and people with underlying disease. After recovery, you can shed the virus for up to 8 weeks. if you have an underlying health condition, shedding may last several weeks to several months. Some people with norovirus infection even if does not show any signs or symptoms, are still contagious and can spread the virus to others.
There is a high risk of getting norovirus infection when you eat or drink contaminated foods and beverages. Raw or undercooked oysters and raw fruits and vegetables are most common cause of this virus. You can also get infected if you touch an contaminated object or surface with the virus and then touch your nose, mouth, or eyes.
Noroviruses can survive temperature extremes in water and on surfaces. So are difficult to wipe out. The infection occurs mostly in closed and crowded environments such as hospitals, nursing homes, child care centers, schools and cruise ships. The virus can quickly pass from person to person through shared food or utensils, by shaking hands, or through other close contact once someone is infected from contaminated food. The virus can spread through the air and contaminate surfaces when someone with the virus vomits. The virus also spreads through feces if a contaminated person does not thoroughly wash his hands after using the bathroom. Dirty diapers can also trigger norovirus.
Risk factors for becoming infected with norovirus include:
Commercially prepared oral hydration solution, such as Pedialyte is recommended for young children. Adults can drink sports drinks and broths. Drinking liquids that contain a lot of sugar, such as soft drinks and fruit juices can make diarrhea worse. Smaller meals and a bland diet may help limit vomiting and diarrhea . Some foods to be included in your diet are:
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