Norovirus is making the rounds — here's what parents need to know about this 'intense' stomach bug

Norovirus closeup in pink and green particles
Norovirus can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting — sometimes at the same time — and it's highly contagious. (Getty Images)

Having a stomach bug isn’t ideal under any circumstances. But having norovirus can be especially uncomfortable. The condition causes intense diarrhea and vomiting — sometimes simultaneously — and it’s highly contagious.

Norovirus cases in the U.S. peaked in March of last year, but tracking by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a near vertical climb in the percentage of norovirus tests that have come back positive since January 21.

Several people are speaking out on Twitter about dealing with the virus — and it does not sound pretty.

“Norovirus hit us this weekend. Sweet baby girl was crying because she felt so bad getting me and Scott sick, and just wanted to snuggle” shared one parent. “Thankfully it was fast but dang I’m wiped out y’all.”

Another commenter made it clear that having norovirus is no picnic. “Day 2 of the norovirus,” they wrote. “I am a notorious hand-washer. Anywhere I go out in public, I wash my hands after arrival and before I leave. I don’t touch door handles. I can’t believe I got this. I threw up 18 times yesterday. Today, it feels like a truck ran over me.”

A fellow sufferer said they think they caught norovirus at work. “Shaking and vomiting literally all night, even the tiniest sip of water causes it, can’t sleep in-between cause stomach cramps, this is rubbish,” they wrote.

If you’ve seen tweets like these, it’s understandable that you’d have questions. But what is norovirus and how is it treated? Here's what experts want you to know.

What is norovirus?

Norovirus is a highly contagious illness that causes diarrhea and vomiting, according to the CDC. “It’s a very, very common intestinal viral infection,” Dr. Ian Michelow, division head of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at Connecticut Children’s Specialty Group, tells Yahoo Life. When someone has norovirus, they can shed billions of viral particles and it only takes a few to make you sick, the CDC says.

Unfortunately, you can get norovirus illness many times because there are different types of noroviruses, according to the CDC. That means that developing immunity to one type of norovirus may not protect you against other forms.

What causes norovirus and how does it spread?

Norovirus usually spreads when you accidentally get tiny particles of poop or vomit from an infected person in your mouth, per the CDC says. This usually happens from one of a few different ways:

  • You eat food or drink liquids that an infected person touches with their bare hands, which have fecal or vomit particles on them

  • You touch surfaces or objects that are contaminated with norovirus particles and then put your fingers in your mouth

  • You have direct contact with someone who is infected with norovirus

Essentially, you can get norovirus from eating food prepared by someone with the virus, touching doorknobs that have been touched by someone with norovirus and taking care of someone who is infected.

When norovirus circulates among kids, it’s usually the result of poor hand hygiene and mouthing toys, Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life. “If a kid has norovirus, touches a toy, another kid touches that toy and then puts their hands in their mouth, it will spread easily,” he says.

This is a big issue in daycare centers and schools, Dr. Katie Lockwood, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, tells Yahoo Life. “As young children in particular may touch surfaces and then touch their eyes and mouths with germy hands, norovirus can spread easily in childcare settings,” she says.

“Unfortunately, it does not take many of the virus particles to cause an infection, which usually develops within 24 to 48 hours,” says Dr. Michael Bauer, a pediatrician and medical director at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, tells Yahoo Life.

What are the symptoms of norovirus?

Norovirus symptoms can be “intense,” Ganjian says. According to the Cleveland Clinic, these symptoms usually include:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Stomach cramps

  • Headache

  • Fever

  • Body aches

Norovirus symptoms tend to come on hard and fast, but usually get better after a day or two, Michelow says. Kids usually end up getting more sick than adults, who typically have some level of immunity to the virus, he says.

How can you treat or prevent norovirus?

There is no set treatment for norovirus — instead it’s important to stay hydrated. Lockwood admits that this can be really challenging if you or your child is experiencing a lot of vomiting or diarrhea. But she recommends encouraging small, frequent sips of fluids throughout the day. Just heed this warning from Michelow: “Too much liquid at one time could lead to vomiting.”

If your child seems to be getting sicker, can’t keep fluids down and is showing signs of dehydration, Michelow recommends calling your doctor about next steps. They may recommend taking your child to the ER for IV fluids and medications that can help stop the vomiting.

Of course, you want to do what you can to lower the risk of norovirus spreading around your home. Bauer says that “meticulous hand washing with soap and water — at least 20 seconds — is essential to limiting and preventing spread.” (Keep in mind, says Bauer, that “hand sanitizers and alcohol are not very effective at killing this hardy virus.”) It’s also important to clean potentially contaminated surfaces such as countertops, toilet seats and doorknobs, Bauer says.

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