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Norovirus: A Guide to Identifying and Treating

Dennis J. Bernier, DO, MPH, FACEP is a board certified emergency medicine physician practicing at the Inova Emergency Room – Ashburn, Inova Loudoun Hospital Emergency Room, and Inova Emergency Room – Leesburg. He serves as Medical Director of the Ashburn ER, and Assistant Medical Director for the Inova Loudoun Hospital and Leesburg ERs.

What is Norovirus?

Winter is prime time for colds, flu, and other viral infections. Norovirus is a viral infection that is more common in the winter, but can strike at any time of the year. Here’s your guide to identifying and treating norovirus.

What is norovirus and what are the symptoms?

Norovirus is a virus that causes nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea, and sometimes abdominal pain or cramping. It is the most common worldwide cause of outbreaks of gastroenteritis – a syndrome of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Is norovirus contagious?

Yes, norovirus is very contagious. This is because the virus has a strong ability to survive in the environment, and because only a small amount of the virus is needed to pass along the illness between people. The vomiting and diarrhea that people experience help to further spread the virus.

How do you diagnose norovirus?

Your doctor will diagnose norovirus through a physical examination and medical history.  Specific tests to diagnose the virus are usually not necessary.  In general, people will become sick 1 – 2 days after coming into contact with the virus.  The symptoms can last for 2 – 3 days and usually resolve quickly after that.

How do you treat norovirus?

Unfortunately, as with most viruses, there is no specific medical treatment (such as antibiotics) and patients must wait for the illness to go away on its own. However, you can treat the symptoms. The treatment protocol mainly focuses on controlling the nausea and keeping patients hydrated with plenty of non-caffeinated fluids. Patients with severe symptoms who become dehydrated may benefit from IV fluids.

How can you prevent norovirus from spreading?

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers may not be effective at killing the virus, so it is strongly recommended to thoroughly wash hands with warm soap and water after using the restroom, preparing food, or being around someone with a diarrheal illness.

To help prevent spread of the virus, people with active symptoms of norovirus (especially food service and healthcare workers) should avoid contact with other people for 2 – 3 days after symptoms resolve.

(Reference:  Norovirus, Matson et al, Available: UptoDate, Updated 7/25/17.)

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