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Norovirus infection

Norovirus infection can cause the sudden onset of severe vomiting and diarrhea. The virus is highly contagious and commonly spread through food or water that is contaminated by fecal matter during preparation. You can also be infected through close contact with an infected person.

Diarrhea, abdominal pain and vomiting typically begin 24 to 48 hours after exposure. Norovirus symptoms last one to three days, and most people recover completely without treatment. However, for some people — especially infants, older adults and people with underlying disease — vomiting and diarrhea can be severely dehydrating and require medical attention.

Norovirus infection occurs most frequently in closed and crowded environments such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools and cruise ships.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Signs and symptoms of norovirus infection include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Watery or loose diarrhea
  • Malaise
  • Low-grade fever
  • Muscle pain

Signs and symptoms usually begin 24 to 48 hours after first exposure to the virus, and last one to three days. You may continue to shed virus in your feces for up to three days after recovery.

Some people with norovirus infection may show no signs or symptoms. However, they are still contagious and can spread the virus to others.

When to see a doctor

Seek medical attention if you develop diarrhea that doesn't go away within several days. Also call your doctor if you experience severe vomiting, bloody stools, abdominal pain or dehydration.

Noroviruses are highly contagious and are shed in the feces of infected humans and animals. Methods of transmission include:

  • Eating contaminated food
  • Drinking contaminated water
  • Touching your hand to your mouth after your hand has been in contact with a contaminated surface or object
  • Being in close contact with a person who has a norovirus infection

Noroviruses are difficult to wipe out because they can withstand hot and cold temperatures as well as most disinfectants.

Risk factors for becoming infected with norovirus include:

  • Having an impaired immune system
  • Living in a place where food is handled with unsanitary procedures
  • Living with a child who attends preschool or a child care center
  • Living in close quarters, such as in nursing homes
  • Staying in hotels, resorts, cruise ships or other destinations with many people in close quarters

For most people, norovirus infection clears up within a few days and isn't life-threatening. But in some people — especially children and older immunocompromised adults in hospitals or nursing homes — norovirus infection can cause severe dehydration, malnutrition and even death.

Warning signs of dehydration include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Listlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Decreased urine output

Norovirus infection is highly contagious. To help prevent its spread:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly, especially after using the toilet or changing a diaper.
  • Avoid contaminated food and water, including food that may have been prepared by someone who was sick.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Cook seafood thoroughly.
  • Dispose of vomit and fecal matter carefully, to avoid spreading norovirus by air. Soak up material with disposable towels, using minimal agitation, and place them in plastic disposal bags.
  • Disinfect virus-contaminated areas with a chlorine bleach solution. Wear gloves.
  • Stay home from work, especially if your job involves handling food. You may be contagious as long as three days after your symptoms end. Children should stay home from school or day care.
  • Avoid traveling until signs and symptoms have ended.
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