The Most Common Norovirus Symptoms Doctors Are Seeing Right Now

Cases of the highly contagious stomach virus have increased in recent weeks. Here's what to know.
Stomach issues and headaches can be some of the most common symptoms of norovirus.
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Stomach issues and headaches can be some of the most common symptoms of norovirus.

In regions across the U.S., cases of norovirus are rising. The illness, which is casually known as the “stomach bug” or “stomach flu,” is certainly a sickness that no one wants to get.

Norovirus is a very contagious virus that causes gastroenteritis. It is one of the most common causes of gastroenteritis in the world,” said Dr. Scott Roberts, an assistant professor of medicine in infectious diseases at Yale School of Medicine. Gastroenteritis is an intestinal infection that causes symptoms associated with upset stomach, according to the Mayo Clinic.

There are several ways you can get the virus. “Transmission most frequently occurs through contact with an infected [person’s] hands or body fluids, eating food that an infected person was handling or touching a contaminated surface,” Roberts said.

Although cases are rising, it’s hard to keep track of norovirus incidents because experts don’t monitor them in the same way they follow respiratory viruses (like COVID-19 and the flu), according to Dr. Sujit Suchindran, an infectious disease doctor and assistant professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine. But, he said, there could be some logical reasons behind this winter’s uptick.

“We may be seeing more norovirus cases now compared to [previous years] because some of the infection prevention measures related to COVID-19 have fallen away in the last couple of years,” Suchindran said. Measures like social distancing and mask requirements are long gone, and people are probably paying less attention to hand-washing, too.

“There are also more kids back in daycare and schools participating in larger communal events,” Suchindran added, noting that this can fuel all kinds of virus spread. (This is no surprise to parents and guardians whose children are dealing with a revolving door of winter illnesses.)

Due to the highly contagious nature of norovirus, it can be tough to keep yourself and those around you healthy — though it is possible. One of the best ways to do this is to know the symptoms so you can isolate from others more quickly.

Speaking to HuffPost, experts shared the most common norovirus symptoms right now, and what to do if you’re sick:

Vomiting

The hallmark symptom of norovirus is vomiting, Roberts said.

“This helps distinguish it from other causes of gastroenteritis where diarrhea is more common,” he explained.

Diarrhea And Stomach Pain

Still, both Roberts and Suchindran told HuffPost that diarrhea can also be a symptom of norovirus.

Suchindran said cases of diarrhea may be accompanied by nausea and stomach pain or cramping.

Fever

Though not as common as vomiting and diarrhea, fever is reported by people suffering from norovirus, too, according to both experts.

A temperature of 100 degrees or above is considered a fever. For adults, if your temperature is 103 degrees or higher, you should go to an urgent care facility or visit your doctor.

Headaches

Another less reported but still prevalent symptom is headaches, Suchindran said. And if you have a bad headache along with a fever, you should get in touch with a medical professional, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Hand sanitizer does not always kill the germs that cause norovirus. Instead, hand-washing is the best way to stop it from spreading.
PhotoAlto/Odilon Dimier via Getty Images
Hand sanitizer does not always kill the germs that cause norovirus. Instead, hand-washing is the best way to stop it from spreading.

What To Do If You Suspect You Have Norovirus

If you think you are infected with norovirus, pay attention to dehydration. Severe diarrhea that sometimes accompanies infections can cause this issue, Suchindran said. He recommended staying hydrated by “drinking things like Gatorade, or Pedialyte, or good old chicken soup with some salt in it.”

Trouble urinating, dark-colored pee, tiredness and dry mouth can all be signs of dehydration in adults. If you are taking care of kids, the symptoms can also include fewer wet diapers and infrequent urination.

Next, practice good hygiene. When it comes to killing the germs, hand sanitizer is not enough to protect against norovirus, according to Suchindran.

“The recommendation is to use direct hand-washing rather than alcohol-based hand sanitizers,” he said. “Hand sanitizers don’t actually kill the virus as well as direct hand-washing.”

You need to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds to stop norovirus from spreading.

You should also disinfect high-touch surfaces if you are infected or are with someone else who is sick. “Norovirus can survive on surfaces for long periods of time, is relatively resistant to freezing and heat, and is not easily killed by alcohol,” which is a common ingredient in household disinfectant wipes, Roberts said.

To kill the virus, you need disinfection products with a norovirus label, he added. Suchindran said that a bleach-based cleaner is great for disinfecting high-touch surfaces — like areas in the bathroom that could be contaminated by vomit or diarrhea.

While at-home treatment is OK for most people, some will require medical attention. If you’re worried about dehydration or other symptoms, it’s worth talking to your doctor or visiting an urgent care center.

What’s more, folks with certain conditions should consider going to the hospital for treatment. “The people that come to the hospital are the ones who are often at greatest risk, like elderly people or people who are immunocompromised,” Suchindran said. “Oftentimes, they’re at risk from getting very sick from the severe dehydration that can happen with severe diarrhea.”

But in most cases, hospitalization is not required for norovirus, he noted.

If you’re sick, it’s crucial that you rest and try to reduce the spread of the illness.

“The other thing I think we’ve learned from the pandemic and applies to norovirus as well: the importance of staying home if you’re sick,” Suchindran said.

Since it’s highly contagious, you do not want to send your ill child to school or go to work with norovirus. Instead, you should stay home to help protect those around you.

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