McFarland Clinic

Norovirus or 'The Stomach Bug' - How to Keep it from Spreading

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February 22, 2017

Norovirus, sometimes called stomach flu or a stomach bug, is a virus that spreads quickly and causes a range of unpleasant symptoms. Laura Hufford, MD, McFarland Clinic Pediatric Hospitalist, shares what makes norovirus contagious and how you can limit its spread.

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What are the symptoms of norovirus?

Symptoms of norovirus include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain or cramping
  • Low fever
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches

What makes norovirus contagious?

Several factors make norovirus especially contagious: 

  1. The virus is excreted prior to the onset of symptoms and for as much as three weeks after symptoms resolve.
  2. It only takes a small amount of the virus (low dose exposure) to cause illness. 
  3. Large amounts of the virus are excreted in stool and vomit. 

How does norovirus spread?

Transmission occurs from person-to-person spread through the fecal-oral or vomitus-oral route, through contaminated food or water or by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching your mouth or nose.

How long is a person contagious with norovirus?

A person is most contagious when they have vomiting and diarrhea but can shed the virus and spread it to others for up to three weeks.

Is there a treatment for norovirus?

While no vaccine or medication is available to prevent or treat norovirus, an understanding of the illness can help prevent the spread to more people. The main complication of norovirus is dehydration. Dehydration can become severe and require hospitalization. Indeed roughly 70,000 people are hospitalized each year with norovirus infection in the United States and 800 deaths are attributed to the illness. Drink plenty of fluids and contact your doctor or First Nurse if you have any questions. Avoid going to the doctor as to minimize the risk of spreading the virus.

How do you prevent norovirus?

Hand hygiene is the most important way to prevent norovirus. Soap and water have been found to be more effective than alcohol gels in preventing transmission. Additionally, surfaces should be properly sanitized. The Center for Disease Control recommends using a chlorine bleach solution to disinfect surfaces. 

Child care providers and food handlers who are ill should stay home from work until they are symptom free. Children who are ill should not attend daycare or school until their symptoms have subsided.

Hand Washing

The Centers For Disease Control provides these steps for effective hand washing:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. 
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel.

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