Fast facts: Norovirus

Olympic officials are dealing with an outbreak of norovirus, often referred to as the “winter vomiting disease”
February 21, 2018

Norovirus has caused havoc at the Pyeongchang Winter Games, affecting more than 250 people, including two Swiss freestyle skiers, security staff and organizing committee members. In this scenario, curiosity has risen about this virus. Vital Record spoke to Cristie Columbus, MD, associate dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine in Dallas and an infectious disease expert, to explain a few basic facts.

Q: What is norovirus?

A: Norovirus is a highly infectious microorganism that causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Although the virus is more common in winter, it can happen any time of the year. Symptoms appear a day or two after infection, and they last for two to three days, although people may be contagious for at least two weeks.

Q: What are its symptoms?

A: Most common symptoms include extreme vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and stomach pain. A patient may also have fever, headache and body aches. The vomiting and diarrhea may cause dehydration, especially among the young children, older adults, those with weakened immune systems and other vulnerable groups.

Q: How does the virus spread?

A: Keep in mind, this is a highly contagious virus. People generally become infected by touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then putting their fingers in their mouths before washing their hands thoroughly. Infection can also occur through eating or drinking contaminated food or liquids.

Q: What can you do to prevent transmission?

A: Make sure you follow a few simple guidelines: Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, wash fruits and vegetables before eating, cook food thoroughly, clean and disinfect any surfaces that may harbor the virus, carefully handle and machine wash, and dry any clothes or linens that may be contaminated. Also, make sure that someone who is infected is not preparing food or providing care to others.

Q: How is the virus treated?

A: Unfortunately, there’s no specific treatment for norovirus; as a viral infection, antibiotics are ineffective. To prevent dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea, people with the illness need to drink plenty of fluids, possibly including an oral rehydration salts solution. Those who still have symptoms of dehydration—such as extreme thirst, dark yellow urine and dry mouth and skin—should see their health care provider immediately.

For more information on the norovirus, Columbus advises visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention online at: https://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/.

— Tamim Choudhury