What is norovirus?
Norovirus is the name given to a group of viruses that cause an intense gastrointestinal illness. The symptoms of norovirus infection usually include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and some stomach cramping. Sometimes people also have low-grade fever, chills, headache and fatigue.
How do people become infected with noroviruses?
Norovirus infections are extremely contagious. People can become infected in several ways including:
- eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus
- touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then touching their mouths or eating
- having direct contact with other people who are infected or who have recently had norovirus infection
How long does the illness last? How long are people contagious?
The acute symptoms of norovirus infection last between one to three days in most people. People infected with norovirus begin being contagious when they develop symptoms. They continue to be contagious for at least three days after all their symptoms disappear.
What treatment is available for people with norovirus infection?
Since norovirus is a viral illness, it cannot be treated with antibiotics as antibiotics are only effective usually against bacterial illnesses. Currently there is no antiviral medication that works against norovirus. Because dehydration from loss of fluids through vomiting and diarrhea is the most serious health effect resulting from norovirus, treatment includes drinking plenty of clear fluids to prevent dehydration. Although it is not usually necessary for people to see a health care provider, they should call to discuss their symptoms and how best to manage them. People who experience dizziness or lightheadedness while standing should definitely contact a health care provider.
If I have norovirus, how can I avoid spreading it to others?
If you think you have norovirus, please call Health Services so we can help you and the school can take proper precautions. To avoid infecting others while you are ill, it's advisable to stay away from places where people gather (e.g. classes, dining hall) and to be extremely careful about handwashing, especially after using the bathroom. Remember, these precautions should be taken not only while you have acute symptoms, but for at least three days after your symptoms disappear.
How can I decrease my chances of getting norovirus?
You can decrease your chance of coming into contact with norovirus by following these preventive steps:
- ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS IMMEDIATELY BEFORE EATING. Norovirus can infect you if you ingest it. Do not touch condiment bottles or salt/pepper shakers while eating. People touch these things regularly, but not all people wash their hands. Apply condiments to your food then wash/sanitize your hands before eating. Eating after you've touched contaminated surfaces (door knobs, counters, serving utensils touched by others) can result in ingesting germs.
- Washing hands briskly with SOAP AND WATER for at least 20 seconds is BEST. If you can't use soap and water then hand sanitizers can help reduce transmission, especially right before eating. Always wash hands with soap and water after using the bathroom.
- TRY TO AVOID TOUCHING YOUR MOUTH AND NOSE. You can transmit the germs to yourself if you touch something that has the virus on it and then wipe your mouth or nose with your hand.
- WIPE DOWN SURFACES BEFORE YOU TOUCH THEM- ESPECIALLY IF OTHERS ARE SICK AROUND YOU. Use a cleanser that contains Bleach/Clorox (premixed or mix your own with 1:10 parts bleach to water or buy spray cleanser). Bleach solution will kill Norovirus on surfaces. Use gloves & a cleanser containing bleach if someone has been sick in your area. Wash your hands after taking off gloves.
- DON'T SHARE. Sharing food, cups & utensils can spread germs. Use a napkin to grab shared utensils at the buffet & sanitize your hands after you get your food & before eating. If your roommate is ill be considerate, but sanitize and separate your things from theirs.
- PROTECT YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM. Actions such as getting plenty of sleep, following a healthy diet, drinking water and staying active really do help keep your immune system healthy, especially if a bug is going around campus. PROTECT YOURSELF!
If you are a student and think you may have a norovirus infection or if you have any questions about norovirus, please contact Health Services. If you are staff or faculty, please contact your primary care provider.