Have you ever come down with an unexplained case of ‘stomach flu’? If so, you’ve experienced a norovirus.
WHAT IS NOROVIRUS?
This group of viruses cause inflammation of the digestive tract. Called ‘gastroenteritis,’ this inflammation can cause severe discomfort, along with a host of other symptoms. Many people refer to gastroenteritis as ‘stomach flu,’ but noroviruses are not related to influenza in any way.
Norovirus infections are very common. Other names for norovirus include Norwalk virus, Snow Mountain virus or Hawaii virus.
HOW DO YOU GET INFECTED BY NOROVIRUS?
Noroviruses are highly contagious. They usually are spread through contaminated food, drink, objects or surfaces. Whenever a person with ‘stomach flu’ fails to wash his or her hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, that person can transfer the virus to whatever he or she handles next: food, beverages, money, countertops, handrails, and so on. The norovirus can live on surfaces for quite some time, which means the next person who touches the contaminated surface or object can pick up the virus and come down with ‘stomach flu.’
SYMPTOMS OF NOROVIRUS INFECTION
You usually can tell pretty easily if you have been infected with a norovirus. Some symptoms include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Muscle aches
Many people mistake these symptoms for the influenza (flu) virus. However, flu is a respiratory infection. Other times, people mistake norovirus symptoms for food poisoning. The symptoms of food poisoning certainly resemble those of norovirus.
Most of the time, you can treat norovirus infections on your own. The symptoms of norovirus usually go away within a couple of days. If your symptoms last longer than two days, or if you have a weakened immune system, you should seek medical attention.
In particular small children and the elderly are at risk of deadly dehydration from the diarrhea associated with norovirus infections. Diarrhea in infants, children and elderly people requires immediate medical treatment.
If you’re a relatively healthy adult, you can take the following steps to treat a norovirus infection:
- Drink plenty of plain water or ‘clear liquids’ – broth, gelatin, tea
- For severe diarrhea, mix a drink that consists of 50% sports beverage and 50% water to retain electrolyte balance
- Rest in bed
- Skip your usual workout session
- Do not take antibiotics for norovirus infections. Viruses aren’t affected by antibiotic drugs.
PREVENTING NOROVIRUS INFECTIONS
Because the family of noroviruses constantly mutates, you can get norovirus infections many times over the course of your life. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to avoid coming down with a norovirus infection at some point. Your best strategy is prevention.
- Wash your hands often during the day. Be sure to wash after touching any object or surface routinely handled by others, such as menus, doorknobs, railings, etc.
- Use antimicrobial hand rub. But use it properly. To be effective, these products need to be thoroughly rubbed into your skin until dry. For maximum effectiveness, rub the product over your entire hand and up about one inch above your wrist.
- Wash your hands every time you use the bathroom.
- Wash or rinse fresh produce. Unsanitary harvesting conditions can spread noroviruses on food.
- Disinfect contaminated surfaces with disposable germ-killing wipes. You also can use these wipes on public spaces in your office to reduce transmission of noroviruses.
- Carefully dispose of contaminated diapers and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
- Wash contaminated clothing, bedding, towels, etc., in hot water. If possible, use chlorine bleach.
NOROVIRUS INFECTION: A NUISANCE BUT NOT GENERALLY LIFE THREATENING
Suffering from the ‘stomach flu’ can be very uncomfortable, but most people survive it just fine. If you fall into a high-risk group, you should seek medical attention right away for norovirus symptoms – particularly diarrhea. Otherwise just rest, drink fluids and try to catch up on television shows while the virus runs its course.