Norovirus: the unwanted guest that brings misery

Hold onto your stomachs folks, norovirus is back and ready to spoil the party with its infamous symptoms. (UAB)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The notorious norovirus is making its rounds again, leaving a trail of upset stomachs and canceled plans in its wake. 

Norovirus is a common and contagious virus that causes vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. It is sometimes called the “stomach flu” or “stomach bug” but is not related to the flu. 

University of Alabama at Birmingham health care epidemiologist Rachael Lee, M.D., says there is an uptick in cases this year. 

“We typically see increases in norovirus in the wintertime — around February — and while there is a slight uptick, according to the CDC, we are still within the seasonal range,” Lee said. “If there are large outbreaks from a single source, we can definitely see increases in our total numbers.”on symptoms of  

Norovirus is spread through two main ways — either through contact with an infected person or contaminated surface, or through consuming contaminated food or water.  

“Following exposure, a person will usually develop symptoms 12-48 hours later, and most people will get better within one to three days,” Lee said. “Because you can have both vomiting and diarrhea, you can become dehydrated, and thus symptoms to watch out for would be a decrease in your urination, severe dry throat and mouth, and feeling dizzy when you stand. If you have these symptoms, seek medical attention.” 

The No. 1 way to prevent transmission of this virus is to practice proper hand hygiene, says Lee, who is also associate professor in the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases. “Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom, before you eat or prepare food, and when they are visibly soiled,” she said. 

While hand sanitizer prevents from many viruses, it may not work as well for norovirus, so if you are experiencing symptoms of norovirus at home or caring for a loved one with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.  

“If you or your loved one is experiencing symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea, I recommend staying home until symptoms have resolved, unless you need to seek medical care,” Lee said. “Luckily, symptoms of norovirus tend to be short-lived during that time, and you can take over-the-counter medications to help with nausea and vomiting and try to drink fluids.” 

Rachael Lee, M.D. (Nik Layman)