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.
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.
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.