Recent high profile outbreaks of norovirus (winter vomiting bug) in several UK hospitals and amongst the passengers and crew of a number of luxury US cruise liners have brought this virus into the headlines.
But what is it, what are its symptoms, is it serious and how is it treated?
Although this norovirus FAQ is not a comprehensive guide it does provide an initial overview of the virus, symptoms, prevention measures etc.
What is Norovirus?
The norovirus or norwalk virus was named after the original strain “norwalk virus,” which caused an outbreak of gastroenteritis in a school in Norwalk, Ohio, in 1968, and a group of Norwalk-like viruses are among several common micro-organisms that can cause diarrhoea, stomach pain and vomiting for 24 to 48 hours, according to the CDC.
They are spread through food and water and close contact with infected people or things they have touched.
The incubation period is about two to three days.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms of norovirus infection are diarrhoea; stomach pain and vomiting for 24 to 48 hours. An infected person may also suffer from abdominal pain, headache and a low-grade fever.
Is norovirus infection a serious illness?
Although being ill with norovirus can make someone feel very unwell for 24 to 48 hours, almost everyone recovers completely without any long-term problems.
However, as with any illness that can cause vomiting or diarrhoea, certain groups are at risk from severe dehydration caused by loss of fluids. These people include infants, young children, and certain at-risk groups including those with weakened immune systems and the elderly.
Is the illness contagious and how is it spread?
Norovirus is highly contagious. It is spread in a number of ways:
- through contaminated food and water
- by contact with objects touched by infected people
- contact with infected people.
How is the virus treated?
Currently, there are no drugs that work to fight the virus or prevent it.
In healthy people, the illness is usually brief. However, as with any illness that causes vomiting and diarrhoea, it is important to restore and maintain fluid levels. Dehydration among young children, the elderly, the sick, can be common, and it is the most serious health effect that can result from norovirus infection. By drinking oral rehydration fluids or water, people can reduce their chance of becoming dehydrated.
Can norovirus be prevented?
You can reduce the chances of becoming infected by regular hand washing, washing fruit and vegetables, thorough disinfection of contaminated surfaces, and prompt washing of soiled articles of clothing. If food or water is suspected as having been contaminated by someone with norovirus, it should be avoided.
What should a person do if they have norovirus?
If you think you have norwalk virus the following will help you and help prevent others from getting sick with norovirus:
- Drink lots of fluids.
- Rest for at least 48 hours after your vomiting and diarrhoea have stopped and you feel well.
- Do not prepare or handle food that will be eaten by others.
- See a doctor if your symptoms last longer than three days or you have bloody diarrhoea or a high fever.
This article was adapted from the Centre for Disease Control Web site http://www.cdc.gov – Accepta Ref. Date Feb 2003.