Though this virus is often called stomach flu, only the influenza virus causes actual flu. When norovirus enters the body, it causes inflammation to the intestines and stomach. Symptoms include abdominal cramping, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Other possible symptoms include chills, fever, excessive sweating, joint stiffness, stool leakage, muscle pains, feeding problems in infants and children and weight loss. An infected person may vomit blood and also have diarrhea at the same time.
Norovirus is carried in food and water. The virus enters the body in contaminated food or liquid. Most often, the virus is passed on in shellfish harvested from water containing sewage, or in food handled by someone carrying the virus. Outbreaks are common in areas where there is frequent person-to-person contact, such as daycare centers, cruise ships and senior centers. It can also transmit in infected particles released into the air through vomiting.
Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to norovirus infection. The virus passes easily thanks to unhygienic behaviour as when a child puts her fingers or a toy in her mouth. Children often become dehydrated due to vomiting and diarrhea caused by the virus.
Give a pediatric oral rehydration solution such as Pedialyte® or Infalyte™ to replace lost fluids. Unlike plain water or juice, these solutions contain the correct amounts of salt and sugar needed to replace lost fluids and electrolytes.
You can also make an oral rehydration solution from common ingredients in your home. To do so, follow these steps:
The solution prevents the body from becoming dehydrated. However, it cannot stop diarrhea. Keep giving your child the oral rehydration solution until diarrhea and vomiting stops. You want to replace all fluid lost through watery stool or vomiting.
Traditional remedies thought to be effective in rehydrating a child are breast milk, carrot soup and rice water.
If you are infected by the virus, stay away from drinks that are high in sugar, such as juice and soda. These only make diarrhea worse and do not replace fluids or minerals that you might have lost. If you are vomiting, drink small amounts of fluids at a time. Trying to force fluids will make an unsettled stomach worse.
Usually, the virus goes away without further treatment. However, if diarrhea and vomiting get worse, see a doctor. The doctor will try to rehydrate you or your child using oral rehydration or intravenous fluids. Signs of dehydration include a dry or sticky mouth, low blood pressure, dark yellow urine, low amounts of urine or no urine, no tears and sunken eyes. In a baby, the soft spot on the head may show.
Usually you will feel better within a day or two. However, some people continue to carry and pass the virus in bodily waste after they have recovered, for as long as three to 14 days. Keep using the preventive measures listed below to avoid passing it on. Although most infected people get better after a few days, children and seniors with weak immune (defence) systems are at risk of serious malnutrition, dehydration and even death.
The best way to avoid norovirus is by using proper hygiene. This includes washing your hands frequently – and always after going to the toilet and before preparing food. Proper hygiene also includes washing and cooking all shellfish and vegetables before eating. Do not eat raw shellfish. Avoid using untreated water.
An outbreak of norovirus is very hard to control, as the virus is not affected by common disinfectants. It is possible to be re-infected many times because of the virus's ability to dominate the immune system. If you think you may be carrying the virus, do not go to work or school or prepare food for others.
Norovirus is highly contagious. It is most often passed through contaminated water and food. In general, avoid all unhygienic foods, water and places. Wash your hands well and often, using soap and water. Stay away from anyone carrying the virus, as it can be transmitted through the smallest particles. Remember, people infected with norovirus may not seem severely ill – they may just look tired. This is why prevention is so key to protecting yourself and your family from infection.
Fluid replacements must have the right balance of sugars and salts. This is extremely important for babies, who can become seriously dehydrated much quicker than adults. Keep in mind that sugary drinks and soda will only make sickness worse. See a doctor as soon as possible if vomiting becomes bloody or diarrhea extreme.