Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on October 04, 2019

What Is Norovirus?

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It’s a common infection caused by a virus. People sometimes call it stomach flu, but it’s not caused by the flu virus. The nasty bug causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and strong belly pain for up to 3 days. It mostly happens in the winter months and affects people of all ages.

How Do You Get Norovirus?

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You can pick up norovirus when it gets into your food or drink, maybe when an infected person touches your food. It also sticks to things you touch, like countertops and doorknobs. You can get norovirus if you share food or eating utensils like spoons or forks with someone who’s sick.  The virus can stay in your poop for 2 weeks after you first catch it, or even longer if you have another health issue.

Contaminated Food and Water

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Norovirus is the most common bug spread through food. People can get sick after they eat at restaurants where cooks or servers don’t wash their hands before they touch your food. You can also get norovirus from raw foods like fruits and veggies grown with water that has infected poop.

Cruise Ships and Crowded Places

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Many people think norovirus is common on cruise ships. But only a small number of stomach illnesses on cruises are caused by norovirus. Crowded places like schools, daycares, hotels, and nursing homes do raise your risk of being around an infected person and getting sick.

Super-Fast Symptoms

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If you get norovirus, you’ll know about 12 hours to 2 days after you’re infected. Symptoms can last up to 3 days, and stomach problems aren’t the only sign. Norovirus can cause fever, muscle aches, and generally make you feel bad. Not everyone who picks up norovirus has symptoms, but they can still pass the virus to others and make them sick.

Possible Complications

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Most norovirus infections get better in a few days. But children, older people, and anyone else with weaker immune systems may get really dehydrated. Look for the signs, including:

  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Peeing much less than normal

See a doctor ASAP if you have these symptoms.

How Is Norovirus Diagnosed?

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Your doctor can usually tell if you have norovirus just by your symptoms.  But they may test your poop to be sure something else isn’t making you sick. 

How to Treat Norovirus

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If you have norovirus, it’s important to rest for a few days. Diarrhea can take a lot of fluids and nutrients from your body, so drink plenty of water and sport drinks. Avoid coffee, tea, and other drinks with caffeine. Ask your doctor if it’s OK to take over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicine to help with your symptoms.

What to Eat While You Get Better

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With all the vomiting and diarrhea, it might be hard to eat anything. But your body still needs nutrients. Bland, soft foods are easier on your tummy. You can try these:

  • Bananas
  • Warm cereals
  • Noodles
  • Yogurt
  • Soup

Avoid sugary drinks or fruit juices, as they can make diarrhea worse.

Stay Away From Others

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When you’re sick with norovirus, you’re very contagious. Stay home from work or school for a few days while you rest. Children with norovirus should not go to school or daycare while they have symptoms. And don’t visit anyone in the hospital -- sick people can easily catch norovirus from you.

Wash Your Hands Well and Often

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A simple way to prevent norovirus is to wash your hands in clean, running water. Use plenty of soap. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds, then rinse and dry with a paper towel. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change a diaper, or touch someone who’s sick with norovirus.

Stubborn on Surfaces

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Norovirus can live on kitchen counters, doorknobs, and other surfaces for up to 42 days. It can survive hot and cold temperatures and many disinfectants. Bleach-based cleansers are best. Check the labels of your household cleansers to see if they work on norovirus.

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