Norovirus, sometimes mistaken for food poisoning, is a highly contagious virus known for being the most common cause of gastroenteritis (infection of the stomach and intestines) in the United States. Symptoms often include diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, and may sometimes be accompanied by a fever. Because norovirus spreads so easily, the simple handling of food by someone infected can transmit the virus. Touching an object or surface that has been infected and then touching your nose, eyes or mouth can also cause the virus to spread. Norovirus is often reported where groups of people gather indoors including cruise ships, restaurants, daycares, medical facilities, and schools.
As with any virus, there is no specific medical treatment for norovirus besides the traditional recommendation of fluids and rest. The illness typically resolves on its own in a few days for most healthy adults. Norovirus infections for young children, infants and elderly individuals may hold serious risks and even result in death. With each expulsion, the virus leaves the body, which means you also lose a lot of essential minerals and are at risk for dehydration. It is important to replace minerals like sodium, potassium and calcium, often identified as electrolytes. Common mineral replacements include electrolyte and/or sport drinks found in your local grocery store.
Prevention is key in stopping the spread of norovirus. Ways to reduce risk include:
- Washing hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom and before preparing food
- Using alcohol-based hand sanitizers anytime soap and water are not available
- Drying hands completely after washing
- Washing and disinfecting surfaces with a detergent (soap) and chlorine bleach mixture when cleaning up after someone has been sick (vomit or diarrhea)
- And if you have Norovirus, do not prepare or serve food for at least two days AFTER you feel better