Norovirus Infection

What is Norovirus Infection?

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that is typically spread to other people though water or food that has been contaminated with infected feces while it was being prepared. It can also be passed on by coming into close contact with an infected individual. Certain conditions increase the chances of spreading it, especially crowded enclosed spaces like nursing homes, schools, cruise ships, and hospitals. There are several types of norovirus, so it is not uncommon to become infected numerous times during one’s life.

Like other similar viruses, it commonly causes patients to experience severe diarrhea. Most patients begin to show symptoms within a day or two of being exposed, while the infection itself holds out for up to three days. While most people recover without incident, certain demographics – older adults, infants, and those with another underlying condition – are more likely to need medical attention.

What are the Symptoms of Norovirus Infection?

Patients infected with norovirus experience inflammation within the intestines or stomach, and sometimes both, a condition called acute gastroenteritis. Other common symptoms include:

Patients who become dehydrated may notice a dry throat and mouth, decreased urination, and a feeling of dizziness when standing up.

Norovirus Infection Causes

Norovirus infection is caused when a norovirus is contracted; there are many different types of noroviruses, which means it’s possible to suffer from norovirus infection multiple times.

The virus is spread via vomit or feces which then enters the mouth. Even trace amounts of these substances are enough to cause infection. For this reason, it’s common to contract norovirus when caring for others with the illness.

It’s also possible to contract it by touching surfaces which are contaminated with the virus. This might occur when an individual with the infection uses the bathroom or vomits without washing their hands afterward. If they then touch other items or surfaces, traces of the virus can be passed to others who touch the same surface and then put their hand to their mouth.

Norovirus infection also often spreads through food contamination. If someone with the virus prepares food without washing their hands, the virus could pass from the food to anyone who eats it. People are contagious with norovirus both during the time they experience symptoms and for a few days after recovery. It is usually during the latter stage that people accidentally pass the virus on to others via food or surface contamination.

How is Norovirus Infection Treated?

Medical treatment is not often needed for a norovirus infection since it will resolve on its own within a few days. However, it is important that patients take steps to provide themselves with sufficient home care to avoid dehydration. Drinking plenty of fluids, especially those with electrolytes and sugar, is strongly encouraged.

If dehydration does become a problem, a short hospital stay and IV fluids may be needed. Ultimately, the best treatment is prevention. Following standard hygiene requirements for food preparation will help greatly in preventing outbreaks and spreading the infection in places where the virus has appeared.

Norovirus Infection Prevention

To prevent norovirus infection, adopt thorough hygiene practices. Wash hands regularly with warm water and soap, particularly after changing diapers and when caring for people with norovirus. Disinfect surfaces which may have been touched by individuals with the virus. Avoid putting the hands to the mouth unless they have recently been washed.

People can avoid passing norovirus on to other people by washing their hands thoroughly after vomiting or passing stools. They should continue to be diligent about hand washing even after the symptoms have passed, since they may still be contagious. Avoid preparing food for other people unless hands are thoroughly washed first.

Norovirus can be contracted from fresh produce which has been handled by people with the infection. For this reason, it’s important to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before preparing and eating them. If food has obviously been contaminated with the virus, it should be disposed of rather than eaten.

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Last Reviewed:
October 07, 2016
Last Updated:
January 25, 2018