Norovirus and the Elderly

Norovirus can affect anyone at any age, including the elderly. Though seniors may not be more susceptible to the virus, they can experience more serious consequences due to the vomiting or diarrhea. Sometimes, the illness can even become fatal.

How do seniors get norovirus?

Seniors catch norovirus the same way any person does, as age is not a factor in catching the virus. Essentially, seniors can catch norovirus if they consume liquid or food that has come into contact with the virus or from being around someone who has it. The elderly that live in a nursing home or assisted living facility may have more of a chance at getting norovirus, as they are around more people than if they lived at home. They also rely on others to prepare their food, in which someone could be working that is infected with the norovirus.

What symptoms will the elderly have if they get norovirus?

For the elderly who catch norovirus, symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and nausea. They may or may not experience headache, body aches, or light fever. Norovirus tends to come on quite suddenly. One moment you’re feeling fine and the next you’re in the bathroom wondering what in the world you ate that is causing such a disruption. Symptoms last around one to two days, but the virus will continue to be contagious for up to two weeks after.

Is there a treatment for norovirus?

There is no cure for norovirus, as the virus runs its course in a couple of days. For seniors (and anyone) who catches norovirus, it is essential to keep them hydrated. Give them plenty of liquids to drink (preferably healthy drinks like water, 100% juice, etc.) regularly throughout the day. This will help them from becoming dehydrated, as dehydration can result in serious issues, including death.

Dehydration symptoms include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased or no urination
  • Getting dizzy when standing up
  • Lethargy

If you notice such symptoms, contact a doctor or go to the hospital, as you or your loved one may be experiencing dehydration and need intravenous fluids.

Take precautions

Whether you’re elderly or you’re taking care of the elderly, always take precaution when it comes to norovirus. Wash hands after using the restroom or changing a diaper in hot water with soap for at least 30 seconds, including your fingernails. Be mindful of how you handle foods. Wash fruits and vegetables well, thoroughly cook shell fish, and regularly clean and disinfect surface areas where you handle and cook food.

If you come down with norovirus, take a break from preparing meals for others. Stay home from work and take care of yourself. Keep in mind that you are still contagious even after your symptoms have passed.

If you’re caring for the elderly and someone comes down with norovirus, immediately remove their clothes and wash any contaminated clothing in hot water. Have them bathe in hot (but not scalding, of course) water and wash your own hands well. Taking the time to do these things can help prevent others from getting norovirus, as well as a norovirus outbreak.