Norovirus – A Leading Cause of Gastrointestinal Illnesses in the United States

A 3D graphical representation of a number of Norovirus virions

Norovirus is an infectious disease that disturbs the digestive system of humans. It is the leading gastrointestinal disease and is caused by the consumption of contaminated food. According to the statistical study of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the subject of food borne illnesses, nearly 20 million people fall ill due to norovirus each year just in the US alone. The virus can also turn deadly as statistics have shown that it is fatal for at least 800 affected people each year, but in general, most people do recover within two to three days.

Origin of the Virus’s Name

Norovirus is named after Norwalk, Ohio, where the first outbreak was reported in a school in 1968. People also called the infection caused by norovirus ‘stomach flu’ or ‘stomach virus’, also it is common to label it as food poisoning. 

How Norovirus Spreads and Works?

A large part of the population can be infected by the norovirus at any given time, because the disease can spread very easily. Consuming foods or drinks that have been contaminated with the virus is a common way of acquiring it and the virus can easily spread if you’re not careful – if you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your mouth and nose, you can easily get infected. That is why the CDC and all other major health organizations recommend to wash your hands frequently, especially when in public environments. In addition, washing your counter tops with chlorine-based disinfectants will help to eliminate the virus. The transmittable ability of the virus is also known to be aerosolized i.e. it can be sprayed into the air by infected people. Indeed, even with the best precautions, the virus can still be acquired, as noted by a recent Princes Cruise in the South Pacific, where 91 people were infected. It should be pointed out though, that with the scores of cruise ships that leave port every day, an outbreak like this is considered rare among these vessels.

An adult can be affected by norovirus from as few as 18 virus units. According to the CDC, a number of norovirus that can fit on a pinhead would be sufficient enough to infect more than 1000 people. Outbreaks of norovirus mostly begin from food outlets. The CDC points out that 70% of norovirus outbreaks are caused by infected food workers.  When food infected service workers prepare food, they easily transmit the virus to customers.

Sign and Symptoms of Norovirus

The symptoms of norovirus generally start to appear 12 to 48 hours after a person first comes into contact with it. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Malaise
  • Weakness and body pain

These symptoms are usually coupled with low grade fever. In most of the cases, symptoms vanish quickly, however viral shedding might last for several weeks through excretion. This viral shedding also adds up to the contagious nature of the norovirus and makes it difficult to control the outbreak of the virus.

Treatment Options for Norovirus

Norovirus is not a bacterial infection, therefore antibiotics can’t help the affected person. However, there are some self-help tips that can be useful for an affected person that will alleviate the pain and effects of the disease.

Hydrate your Body

Diarrhea and excessive vomiting can cause dehydration. Pedialyte is a good option to hydrate affected people of all ages. Drinks containing sugar, caffeine and alcohol should be avoided since they can worsen the condition of diarrhea. The best drink you should have – water. The most natural substance on earth and one that is recommended to all whether you are ill or not.

Take Care of your Diet

In many cases, appetite picks up in affected people. Therefore, it is necessary to maintain a proper diet during the course of illness. Adding fresh and light fruits that are rich in nutrients will help you to not feel weak. Soup, fresh fruits, lean protein (fish and poultry) and yogurt are some suitable food options to introduce in your diet during the illness.

It is also better to provide your body with complete rest during this time to ensure a quick and full recovery.

Always Consult a Physician!

By acting upon the above tips and by using over counter anti-diarrhea medications, you should start to feel better in few days; however, you should seek the advise of a medical professional when you first start to feel these symptoms, but if you wait (NOT RECOMMENDED) and your symptoms worsen, it is imperative that you contact your physician immediately. With that said, some of the more serious symptoms you may encounter if you do not seek professional medical help right away could result in:

  • A high-grade fever
  • Your diarrhea is not going away even with over the counter medication
  • You can’t tolerate liquids and solid food items
  • There is blood in your stool

Of course prevention is better than the cure. Try to avoid eating from unhygienic food places. Don’t eat under-cooked meals. Also, don’t eat food prepared by a sick individual or one that appears to be ill. If you have caught the norovirus, try to avoid public places and restrooms to prevent further spread of the disease.