Norovirus is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in human beings. It is curable, with most people able to make a full recovery. However, if left untreated, it can be lethal due to dehydration. Norovirus accounts for many deaths each year, especially in less developed countries. Young children and the elderly are at the highest risk of death. The infection is transmitted through contaminated food or water or through contact with an infected individual. Most people have experienced some of the signs and symptoms of norovirus at some point.
Watery stool is the most common norovirus symptom, occurring in nearly all infected individuals. Usually, the person experiences an urgent and recurrent need for bowel movements. Eating anything may prompt a need to rush to the bathroom. The inability to retain food and the dehydration caused by loss of fluids and electrolytes leads to weakness and lethargy. Anti-diarrhea medications may control the symptoms, but as diarrhea is the body's way of getting rid of the virus, they may prolong the illness.
Projectile vomiting often accompanies norovirus diarrhea bouts, though some people experience a mild version of the infection that causes nausea without vomiting. In addition to fatigue, regular vomiting often leaves individuals feeling physically exhausted. This symptom also leads to dehydration, and it can be difficult for the person to keep fluids down.
As the norovirus infection spreads through the gastrointestinal tract, the stomach lining becomes inflamed, leading to pain and cramping that may be dull and persistent or sharp and stabbing. The stomach ache can last for three to five days. Because doctors hesitate to prescribe medications, which may delay recovery, natural options such as ginger may help alleviate pain and nausea.
About one-third of those infected by norovirus develop a low-grade fever of around 100 degrees F. The temperature may rise before other symptoms appear. Chills, body aches, and malaise are also frequent. Over-the-counter medications can control the fever, which tends to subside once the body begins to successfully fight the infection. Most people start to recover within 72 hours, although fatigue and lack of appetite may linger for up to a week.
Often, people with norovirus experience headaches through the course of the illness, typically a persistent throbbing across the forehead. The exact reason for this symptom is unclear, though it could be a result of prolonged dehydration. The individual should continue trying to keep down fluids. Low-dose over-the-counter painkillers can offer relief, but some irritate the lining of the stomach. Therefore, it's best to consult with a physician before taking medications.
Diarrhea and vomiting drain the body of fluids, and this deficiency can cause dizziness, dry mouth, and decreased urination. To avoid dehydration, infected people should consume electrolyte-rich fluids, such as sports drinks, at continuous intervals. Extreme dehydration, as evidenced by dizziness or loss of consciousness, require immediate medical attention and intravenous fluids.
Norovirus begins in the gastrointestinal system, but dehydration and loss of electrolytes can lead to pain in the limbs and general achiness. This is one of the earliest symptoms of an infection; soaking in a bath or massaging the muscles can relieve this pain. In some cases, a painkiller with a muscle relaxant may help.
The dehydration caused by norovirus leads to reduced urination and dark, concentrated urine that may also be smelly. Less frequent urination than usual is often a sign of dehydration, though it is unlikely this would be the first symptom of norovirus to develop.
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