Every year 20 million Americans spend at least one horrendous night on the bathroom floor battling nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Call it what you want--food poisoning or the stomach flu--but your sickness may have been caused by the norovirus. For 1 in every 15 Americans this is true. Knowing how norovirus spreads and how you can avoid it can prevent anymore lonely nights spent with your head in the toilet.
Let's set the record straight: Food poisoning can be caused by many different things including viruses and bacteria (i.e. E. coli and Salmonella); parasites and toxins. Gastroenteritis, inflammation of the stomach and intestines from a virus, aka the stomach flu, has nothing to do with the actual flu which is caused by the influenza virus. With that said, noroviruses are often referred to by both names and is the leading cause of gastroenteritis.
The trouble with noroviruses is they can spread like wildfire and will take anyone as their hostage. The virus is easily spread through eating or drinking contaminated foods and liquids; coming in contact with someone who is infected; or touching contaminated surfaces. Even more troubling, there is a new strain of Norovirus, called the GII.4 Sydney wreaking havoc across the world causing large outbreaks of gastroenteritis.
Although the 70,000 people hospitalized each year with nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramping and fatigue caused by the norovirus may feel like they're dying, symptoms only last about one to two days. As a result of constant vomiting and diarrhea, people can become dehydrated. If you or someone you are caring for becomes severely dehydrated, consult a doctor.
So how can you keep the norovirus out of your life?
As always, if you are ill, contact your doctor. Make sure all contaminated laundry is washed immediately and do not prepare food for anyone while you are sick and for three days after! The norovirus can never be completely avoided -- especially if an outbreak occurs in closed quarters with a lot of people like a dorm or cruise ship -- but if you follow simple prevention tactics you can greatly decrease the odds of getting ill.