Influenza isn’t the only virus that is making headlines in the United States this winter; the norovirus is also making people sick. And this year, there is a new strain of norovirus called GII.4 Sydney.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the norovirus is responsible for making 21 million people sick each year, but some people get the norovirus, also commonly called the stomach flu, mixed up with influenza, when in fact they are two totally different viruses.
Let’s take a look at norovirus symptoms and see what happens when it attacks your body.
Norovirus: Highly Contagious
The norovirus is highly contagious and spreads quickly and easily in places where there are a lot of people. Day cares, long-term care facilities, cruise ships, schools, and hotels are all places where there are a lot of people in small areas where norovirus outbreaks are likely to occur. The virus itself can live on practically anything, for up to 12 hours, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. (The flu virus can even live on household pets!) On contaminated surfaces such as carpet, norovirus has been shown to survive up to 12 days.
So how does this virus enter your body?
Stomach Flu Spreads
The norovirus lives in the vomit and stool of the sick person. If you’re sick, and you don’t wash your hands after using the bathroom or throwing up, then (even though you can’t see it on the your hands) you touch an object or prepare food, you’re transferring the virus to others. A healthy person comes along, picks up that same object and then touches his/her eyes, nose, or mouth and then the virus has a way in. If you haven’t gotten it yet, you can get the norovirus by eating food prepared by a sick person, if they haven’t washed their hands really thoroughly.
I know, you’re thinking – who’s going to be making food with the stomach flu? Well, unfortunately, you may still be contagious even after you feel better.
Norovirus Symptoms: Is it Stomach Flu?
So once the virus gets in, what happens next? The virus begins to multiply and then you start getting symptoms. If you have ever had the ‘stomach flu’ you know how miserable it can be.
Symptoms come on suddenly, usually within 12 to 48 hours after you’ve been exposed to the norovirus, and include: diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach cramps. There are other symptoms, such as a low fever, chills, headaches, fatigue and muscle aches, but they’re uncommon. Generally most people recover in a day or two without any serious side effects, but remember – you’re still contagious even after you feel better!
Norovirus Infection: Shedding the Virus
You start shedding the virus once it has worked its way into your cells. If you’re sick with the norovirus, you can shed billions of virus particles, but it only takes as few as 18 particles to infect someone, according to the CDC.
Although it is possible for you to shed this virus before you start to feel sick, generally shedding occurs once you have the symptoms and for two weeks or more after you feel better. This doesn’t mean that you are still contagious; the CDC reports that it is unclear whether or not norovirus sufferers are still contagious long after they have recovered.
Although there’s a norovirus vaccine in the works, there’s no antiviral treatment for the stomach flu, so your only option for avoiding this nasty virus is to prevent it. Practice good hand hygiene; wash your hands frequently and with soap and water. You can use hand sanitizer if clean water and soap are not available.
When cleaning up after someone who is sick; know that Clorox or Lysol Wipes may not kill the norovirus. To kill the norovirus you should use a bleach and water solution to wipe everything down. To make the bleach solution, use anywhere from 5 tablespoons to one and half cups of bleach to one gallon of water. You should also wash any clothes, sheets, or towels that may have come in contact with bodily fluids during your bout with illness.
Gastroenteritis or Stomach Flu or Norovirus
This year’s ‘GII.4 Sydney’ stomach flu is hitting hard, but by any name, the norovirus contributes to 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths every year. These hospitalizations and deaths mainly occur in young children and the elderly, but norovirus symptoms can make for a miserable couple of days for anyone, so your best option is prevention. One of the worst aspects of the stomach flu virus (other than that it doesn’t have a cure) is that there are so many different types of these viruses that, even after you get it once, you can still get sick again with another strain.
I know, just what you wanted to hear.© Copyright 2013 Janelle Vaesa, MPH, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Science