Norovirus is one of the many viruses that causes gastroenteritis. The main symptoms are fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pains. When we have this virus, we are not hungry and have difficulty remaining hydrated.
Norovirus is most commonly seen in the winter months, from about November to April, as this is when we tend to be inside and have frequent close contact with others. It affects all age groups though it can be most severe in young children under two years old, the elderly, and people who have a low immune system.
Norovirus is very contagious. It can be spread in public places via surfaces and is also easily contracted from contaminated food. Transmission can occur through droplet contact, including when one is vomiting. The virus is also shed in stool for several days after recovery. It is important for those who are caring for the sick with norovirus to maintain good hygiene practices and when in close contact, wearing a mask can help reduce the risk of transmission.
Norovirus symptoms can start as early as 12 hours, and up to three days from contact. The worst part of the illness usually lasts about three days, but it is possible to continue to feel unwell and have low appetite and energy for a few days longer.
“We do not yet have a vaccine to prevent getting norovirus, or to diminish the severity of the illness,” says Dr. Valerie Sales, paediatrician and infectious diseases specialist, Oak Valley Health. “The main protection is with good hand washing. However, if in a setting where one will have close contact with someone who has norovirus, wearing a mask will also offer protection. If someone in your household has gastroenteritis, whether from norovirus or another virus, washing surfaces especially in the washroom is important.”
Remember the following when hand washing:
- When in public places, avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth. If touching them, ensure to clean your hands prior to and after touching them.
- Make a habit to wash your hands as soon as you come home.
- Always wash your hands after going to the washroom, including at home. Use a paper towel to open the door as you are leaving a public washroom.
- Always wash your hands well prior to touching food for preparation or to eat.
How to manage symptoms of norovirus
Maintaining hydration is the best way to get through the illness. Drinking a variety of liquids is key to maintaining the electrolyte balance in our bodies. Sports rehydration drinks can be helpful as well as those that are made for gastroenteritis and food poisoning. Children can be given Pedialyte, which also comes in popsicles. Smoothies, popsicles, applesauce, flat ginger ale, and blended soups are also great options to consume.
The key is to take small quantities frequently between episodes of vomiting. Taking too much at a time often provokes the vomiting response. It is also important to ensure that there is good urine output and that the urine remains light yellow in colour. If there is low urine output, confusion, lethargy, dizziness, shivering while with a fever, or in children irritability, persistent fever beyond three days, blood or mucus in the stools, seek immediate medical attention.
Medications to help control nausea and vomiting, as well as fever can help. For fever, it is best to use acetaminophen (such as Tylenol and Tempra), as opposed to ibuprofen (such as Advil and Motrin), and it should be taken with food.
The typical BRAT (banana, rice, applesauce and toast) diet is a good way to restart food, but essentially, anything that the person would like to eat is fine, as long as it is easy to digest (so avoid greasy foods, meat and eggs).
How to care for and monitor young children with norovirus:
- For children under one year old, continue nursing or giving formula
- Ensure there are at least 4-6 wet diapers a day
- Ensure that they have tears when they are crying
Do not hesitate to call your doctor for advice and to seek medical attention if you are concerned.
This article appeared in the March 2023 issue of The Link. To receive Oak Valley Health’s community newsletter, subscribe now.