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Norovirus

What Is Norovirus?

Norovirus is a virus that causes diarrhea and vomiting. It’s sometimes called the stomach flu or stomach bug, but norovirus (NOR-uh-vy-ris) isn’t related to the flu.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Norovirus Infection?

About a day or two after contact with norovirus, a person may have symptoms such as:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • watery diarrhea
  • belly pain

Some people might also have a fever, chills, headache, or muscle aches. Sometimes norovirus causes no symptoms, but infected people can still pass the virus to others.

A child with a norovirus infection who has a lot of diarrhea and vomiting can get dehydrated and feel lightheaded or dizzy.

Kids with other health problems may have more severe symptoms.

Is Norovirus Contagious?

Yes. Norovirus spreads easily, even before someone has symptoms. Sometimes an infected person can spread it for weeks after they feel better. Anyone can get a norovirus infection, especially if they spend time where many people gather, like at childcare centers and schools and on cruise ships.

The virus is in the poop or vomit of infected people. It can get on an object or surface, especially when someone doesn’t wash their hands well after using the toilet or changing a diaper. Kids can get the virus if they put their fingers in their mouths after touching a contaminated toy or surface.

People also can get infected from eating or drinking contaminated food or water (then, it’s known as food poisoning), and even by breathing in the virus if they’re close enough to an infected person who vomits.

How Is Norovirus Diagnosed?

Health care providers usually diagnose a norovirus infection based on symptoms, rather than a test.

If a child’s symptoms are severe, the provider may test the blood, poop, or pee.

How Is Norovirus Treated?

Most norovirus infections get better on their own. As your child recovers at home:

  • They should get plenty of rest.
  • Give lots of fluids to help your child stay hydrated.
  • Give an oral rehydration solution (such as Pedialyte, Enfalyte, or a store brand) to replace lost fluids. It has the right amount of water, sugar, and salt for kids. You can buy it at drugstores or grocery stores without a prescription. You also can give frozen electrolyte pops or broth.
  • Don’t give your child any medicines unless recommended by their health care provider. Note: Antibiotics only work against bacteria, so doctors don’t use them to treat norovirus.
  • Make sure your child washes their hands well and often to prevent the virus from spreading. 
  • When your child’s vomiting stops, offer small amounts of foods. A child who isn’t throwing up can eat a regular diet if they feel up to it. It may take time for them to feel like eating. There's no need to avoid dairy products unless they make the vomiting or diarrhea worse. Your child may need to avoid greasy or fried foods until they feel better.

How Long Does Norovirus Last?

Symptoms of norovirus infection usually last about 2–3 days.

Kids with a norovirus infection should not go to school or childcare until their vomiting and diarrhea has stopped for 24 hours. They also should not go in swimming pools until they’re well again. Children in diapers should stay out of pools until their diarrhea has stopped for 7 days.

Can Norovirus Be Prevented?

It isn't possible to completely prevent the spread of norovirus, and there’s no vaccine for it.

If someone in your household has a norovirus infection, take steps to help protect other family members:

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before and after caring for or cleaning up after the sick person. Don’t use alcohol-based hand sanitizers because they won’t kill the germs.
  • Wear rubber gloves and a face mask when cleaning up vomit or poop.
  • Wipe soiled surfaces and toilet areas using a diluted bleach solution (5 tablespoons of bleach in a gallon of water). Leave the bleach solution in place for at least 10 minutes before wiping it away. (The bleach solution may discolor colored items.)
  • Clean soiled clothing using the:
    • washing machine’s longest cycle and hot water settings
    • dryer’s high heat setting

When Should I Call the Doctor?

In most cases symptoms get better in a few days. 

Call the doctor if your child:

  • goes more than a few hours without drinking
  • has signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouth, few tears when crying, peeing less than 3 times a day, or no wet diaper in 4–6 hours
  • still has diarrhea or vomiting after a few days
  • develops a high fever
  • vomits blood, or has bloody diarrhea or severe belly pain

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date Reviewed: 01-04-2022

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