Norovirus is a very contagious virus that can infect anyone. It spreads through direct contact with an infected person, touching contaminated surfaces and then putting unwashed hands in your mouth, or consuming water or food contaminated with the virus.
If you've been around someone with norovirus, washing your hands frequently is the best way to avoid getting sick, but know that norovirus spreads quickly and easily. Outbreaks can happen at any time of the year, but they are more common between November and April.
One of the main symptoms of norovirus is diarrhea. It usually comes on suddenly, beginning 12 to 48 hours after the initial exposure and lasting for anywhere from one to three days. Most people recover from norovirus without complications, but frequent diarrhea can be dangerous for young children and older adults because it can quickly lead to dehydration.
Like diarrhea, nausea and vomiting often come on quickly. These symptoms can cause further symptoms because they make it difficult for someone with norovirus to keep down anything they eat or drink anything, which can lead to dehydration, especially if the person is also experiencing diarrhea.
Stomach pain is another symptom of norovirus that is quite prevalent. One study that looked at military trainees with norovirus indicated that 76 percent of the 99 participants reported abdominal pain. This may feel like cramping or gas pains, and the person may even hear their stomach churning during bouts of pain.
Some people with norovirus may develop a fever. In the study that looked at military trainees with norovirus, 47 percent reported fever or chills. If a fever is present, it is usually low-grade, between 99.5 and 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit. As debilitating as it can be, a fever actually indicates that the body is working hard to get rid of the virus, so it's best to rest, drink lots, and let the symptom do its job.
Some people with norovirus experience headaches. This symptom may be related to the virus, or it may be secondary to the fluid loss from vomiting and diarrhea and be an early sign of dehydration. Even if—or especially if—those fluid-loss symptoms are occurring, it's vital to keep drinking lots of liquids so the body continues to benefit from them as much as possible.
Sore muscles and other body aches may also be a sign of norovirus. These may result from generally being unwell, but often the vomiting spells with norovirus are so violent that they cause pain in the abdominal muscles or other parts of the body. Rest and warm baths may help alleviate these aches.
People with norovirus may not sleep well as they are dealing with frequent vomiting and diarrhea, and this lack of adequate rest can lead to fatigue. The physical act of vomiting is also tiring and can wear out someone whose body is already working hard to fight off the norovirus. Fatigue can also be a sign of dehydration.
Chills may also be a symptom of norovirus, particularly for those who also have a fever.
There is no curative treatment for norovirus, so care focuses on symptom management and avoiding dehydration. Rest and drink plenty of fluids, such as Pedialyte for young children. Adults and older children can drink sports drinks, broth, and eat popsicles. Avoid drinks with alcohol, caffeine, or sugar, especially in small children, as these can make diarrhea worse. Infants with norovirus should stick to their regular nursing or bottle-feeding schedule to reduce the chances of dehydration.
Most people recover from norovirus within a few days, but this is not always the case.
Dehydration is the biggest risk with norovirus, and it is most likely to affect young children and older adults. Many of the symptoms of norovirus contribute to dehydration, including fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, and the virus makes it difficult for people to take in enough fluids to make up for what they have lost. Signs of dehydration include dry mouth and throat, dizziness, fatigue, and decreased urine output. Infants and young children may stop having wet diapers, be unusually sleepy, or cry with little or no tears.
If norovirus symptoms continue for a few days and signs of dehydration are present, see a doctor right away. In some cases, people with norovirus can be treated with oral rehydration to prevent dehydration, but some people may need to be admitted to a hospital for IV hydration.
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