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Norovirus 101

A new strain of norovirus may be heading to Georgia this winter. Here are a few things you need to know about the virus and ways you can protect yourself.

What is the norovirus?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the norovirus is a highly contagious virus that causes your stomach or intestines to become inflamed.

Every year, more than 19 million people are infected with the virus and it contributes to over 56,000 hospitalizations and over 570 deaths.

Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne-disease outbreaks and illnesses in the United States.

How is norovirus transmitted?

“The most common method of transmission occurs when people accidentally consume fecal matter from an infected individual,” says Jesse Couk, M.D., an infectious disease specialist with Piedmont.

You can also become infected by consuming contaminated droplets when people vomit.

“Vomiting is the most common symptom and when infected individuals throw up, aerosolized droplets can contaminate their environment,” explains Dr. Couk. “If you happen to touch contaminated surfaces you may infect yourself when you enjoy your next meal, if you do not wash your hands properly before eating. You may also consume food contaminated by another individual.”

Norovirus spreads quickly through close quarters like cruise ships, daycare centers, restaurants or nursing homes, and most outbreaks typically occur between November and April.

What are the symptoms of norovirus?

If you become infected with the norovirus, symptoms can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stomach pain
  • Body aches

How do you treat norovirus?

Norovirus can’t be treated with antibiotics or other drugs and there is no vaccine. Dr. Couk recommends supportive care for those suffering from the illness.

“It is important to replace fluids to prevent dehydration,” says Dr. Couk. “I usually recommend using Pedialyte or a mixture of half Gatorade and half water.”

A small percentage of people suffering from extreme dehydration may need to be hospitalized.

“In the hospital we can treat dehydration with intravenous fluids and monitor electrolytes for any abnormalities that may occur,” says Dr. Couk. “Children under 5, adults over 65, and the immunocompromised have the greatest risk of being hospitalized.”

In healthy people, norovirus usually goes away on its own. The acute illness typically lasts for 1 to 3 days, though norovirus can continue to be shed in the stool for up to two weeks.

Preventing norovirus

The best way to prevent the spread of norovirus is to practice good hygiene.

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water, particularly after using the restroom, changing a diaper or before eating. Alcohol based sanitizer should not be used as a substitute for washing with soap and water.
  • Use a chlorine bleach solution to clean and disinfect surfaces after someone is sick.
  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables and thoroughly cook seafood before eating.
  • Wash clothes or linens that have been contaminated.
  • If you become sick with norovirus, don’t prepare foods for at least three days.

For more health and wellness tips, click here

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