Norovirus – a nasty and contagious stomach virus – is spreading across the US, even shutting down a school in suburban Detroit for several days last week. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that positive tests are seasonally high across the country, with test positivity peaks in the Northeast (over 16 percent), the South (also over 16 percent positive), the West. (over 12.5 per cent), and a small drop from over 17 per cent positive to under 15 in the Midwest. Currently, 14 states are reporting outbreaks of the virus, and cases have also increased in the UK and Canada.
Norovirus is often called the “stomach flu” but is not related to the flu virus. It usually causes nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, and mild fever and rigors are also possible. It is usually spread through contaminated food, surfaces, hands or water, and is also the annual leading cause of foodborne illness. The virus is extremely contagious and is often found on cruise ships, in schools and in other environments where people share close quarters.
(Related: Want to stay healthy? Learn how to wash your hands properly. )
While norovirus can be contracted at any time of the year, cases are most common from November to April in countries above the equator and between April and September in regions below the equator. A wildcard for 2023 is that changes in behavior due to the COVID-19 pandemic have interrupted natural cycles of many viruses. Since people have behaved differently since 2020, viruses are not traveling around the world in their usual patterns, and population levels (not individual immunity) are probably reduced, so we are more susceptible to viruses and in different patterns.
Infection specialist Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts told NBC10 Boston, “The recent norovirus cases are probably another example of us seeing common infections resurgence as we continue to come out of our COVID-19 shells. .. There were periodic localized outbreaks of norovirus infection all the time before COVID, so it’s not surprising that we’re seeing them again.”
(Related: Restaurants can save a lot of dough by letting sick employees stay home.)
According to the Mayo Clinic, norovirus symptoms usually last only a few days; those infected should stay hydrated as much as possible, as dehydration can cause complications and possible hospitalization. It is also important to isolate yourself and stay home from work or school, if possible, to avoid infecting others as the virus spreads so quickly.
“Put a timer on your phone if you have to say it’s time to try to eat something, or it’s time to at least drink something to stay hydrated. If you can’t keep the water down after 24 hours, it’s important to seek help,” says Dr. Jay-Sheree Allen, a Mayo Clinic family physician. “If you’re able to keep things down, but your symptoms persist after 48 to 72 hours, it’s also a smart idea to seek help from a doctor.”
Norovirus is a virus that is difficult to kill, so hand washing with soap and water is an important preventive method, as hand and disinfectant are not as effective against norovirus. Some other prevention tips include washing fruits and vegetables before eating them, not sharing utensils with those who are sick, avoiding contact with people who are infected, and washing clothes thoroughly, especially if they are dirty.