What to know and how to avoid

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Vesicles in the intestine containing clusters of viruses, including norovirus.Image source: National Institutes of Health

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Vesicles in the intestine containing clusters of viruses, including norovirus.Image source: National Institutes of Health

Norovirus is typically more prevalent in the fall and winter, but you can contract the virus at any time of the year.Norovirus is the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis vomiting and diarrhea in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Norovirus infection, sometimes called the stomach flu, is not related to the flu caused by influenza viruses. It’s a virus that causes gastroenteritis, said Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Mayo Clinic Children’s Center.

“Norovirus is a virus that causes gastroenteritis, or stomach flu. It usually causes symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. Most healthy people recover within a few days. But for people with weakened immune systems, such as , their symptoms can last longer,” she said.

Dehydration is a concern, especially for young children, older adults, and people with other health problems or who are pregnant. These symptoms may include decreased urination, dry throat and mouth, and feeling dizzy when standing.

Image source: Mayo Clinic


“Norovirus is spread through contact with the virus. People infected with norovirus shed large amounts of the virus in their vomit and feces, so exposure to the virus is how you get sick. This could be through direct contact or through contaminated food,” Or you can pick it up from the surface. That’s why handwashing is important and the best way to prevent norovirus infection,” Dr. Rajapaksa said.

risk factors

The CDC says about half of food-related illness outbreaks caused by norovirus are linked to restaurants or food-related settings. This occurs when infected food workers and staff come into contact with food or when food becomes contaminated.

Dr. Rajapaksa said food contaminated with norovirus often looks, smells and tastes normal, making it difficult to tell whether it is contaminated.

Norovirus can spread quickly, especially in confined spaces such as day care centers, nursing homes, schools and cruise ships. These viruses are difficult to eliminate because they tolerate high and low temperatures and most disinfectants.

“One of the most common places we see norovirus outbreaks is in closed settings, such as cruise ships, where there are many people eating in the same place and living in close proximity.” Rajapaksa. “Even one case of norovirus on a cruise ship can quickly spread to others there. That’s why it’s crucial to make sure you wash your hands, especially before eating.”

Prevent norovirus infection

Antibiotics won’t help because this is a viral infection, not a bacterial infection. The best protection is prevention.

Tips to prevent the spread of norovirus:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid potentially contaminated food and water.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them.
  • Cook seafood thoroughly.
  • If you are sick, stay home and avoid others.
  • If you have vomiting/diarrhea, avoid preparing food for others.
  • Disinfect potentially contaminated surfaces and counters.

Please use caution when traveling. The CDC tracks outbreaks of norovirus and other diseases. You can learn more on their website.

The CDC says norovirus outbreaks are typically more common in the winter. In countries above the equator, epidemics are most common from November to April, while in countries below the equator, epidemics are most common from May to September.

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