Telehealth Doctors and Psychologists Australia

Updated 10 September 2021

What is Norovirus?

Patient with upper abdominal pain symptoms resulting from kidney stones
Norovirus is a highly infectious and contagious disease that causes sufferers to experience gastroenteritis resulting in bouts of vomiting as well as diarrhoea. In Australia, norovirus infections account for a high percentage of gastroenteritis cases, with outbreaks commonly occurring in hospitals, schools, childcare centres and residential aged care centres. While norovirus outbreaks may occur any time in the year, outbreaks of this viral infection tends to occur more frequently during the winter months. The norovirus can infect anyone, and while symptoms in teenagers and young adults may be mild, the symptoms in the elderly can often be severe, especially when they are already battling other underlying health conditions. There are several strains of the norovirus.  Once infected by one strain of norovirus, your body will build immunity from that strain of norovirus, but it is unknown how long this immunity lasts. This explains why you can catch Norovirus more than once.

Symptoms of Norovirus

When infected by norovirus, you are likely to show signs of infection within 48 hours and the infection can last for a further 2 days. A typical norovirus infection results in gastroenteritis which will cause victims to experience frequent, uncontrolled bouts of watery stooling and vomiting Other symptoms associated with norovirus include nausea, muscle cramps, aches, and pains, headaches, stomach aches, and fever. Dehydration due to incessant diarrhoea and vomiting is more common amongst the elderly and young children.

How is the Norovirus Transmitted?

 Norovirus is transmitted from one infected person to others through their stool or vomit. This can usually occur in any of the following ways:
  • By coming into direct bodily contact with the stool or vomit of the infected individual,
  • By shaking the hands of a person infected with norovirus,
  • When you come into contact with objects that have been contaminated by an infected person, such as clothing, utensils, cups, toilet seats, and so on.
  • Consuming drinks and foods that have been contaminated by the virus,
  • When you come into direct contact with airborne particles from vomit projectiles.
It is important to note that when a person is infected with norovirus they become contagious right from when they start displaying signs and symptoms of infection. Even after the symptoms have stopped, a person infected by norovirus will still be contagious for up to two days.

How is Norovirus Diagnosed?

Questioning followed by a physical examination by your doctor may be all that is needed to come up with a diagnosis. Your doctor may diagnose your condition based on the symptoms that you display. However, your doctor may request stool and/or blood tests in order to confirm the presence of the virus, the type of strain and also the viral load present in your body.

Treatment of Norovirus

There is no particular treatment for norovirus and patients are advised to get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids. Like the flu or common cold, most patients with norovirus will recover fully without taking any medication. Constant stooling and vomiting will cause patients to lose a tremendous amount of salts and fluids, which can result in dehydration if the fluids are not sufficiently replaced. The use of orally administered rehydration solutions can come in handy when trying to quickly replenish lost fluids. However, where oral rehydration solutions are not readily available, you can drink plain water. High sugar content drinks are not advised as they can actually worsen your diarrhoea.

How to Prevent Norovirus Infection  

To prevent norovirus, practicing good hygiene is absolutely necessary. You should:
  • Thoroughly wash your hands with running water and soap for a minimum of 10 seconds after using the toilet. You should also dry your hands with a clean, dry towel.
  • Make use of an alcohol-based hand sanitiser where running water and soap is not readily available.
  • Always wash your vegetables and fruits thoroughly just before you eat them.
In the event of contracting norovirus, it is important to take great personal care to prevent the infection from spreading to other members of your household. You can practice the following preventive measures:
  • Disinfect surfaces that you come into contact with, especially after a bout of stooling and vomiting, with a disinfectant.
  • Wash your cups, plates and cutlery with soap and hot water before putting them on the rack.
  • Use detergent and hot water to wash clothing that has been contaminated.
  • Always properly flush stool and vomit down the toilet and ensure that the toilet bowl is clean at all times.
  • Stay at home and away from other people as much as possible as you recover from a norovirus infection.
  • The elderly and young children are more susceptible to norovirus, so they need to be given special care to avoid serious complications. The elderly tend to have other underlying health concerns which makes given them special care all the more important.

Complications of Norovirus

The severity of norovirus is more pronounced in babies, young children and the elderly. When stooling is continuous and lasts for a duration longer than a day in infants or a couple of days in young children and adults, it can lead to severe complications. Some of the severe complications of norovirus include;
  • Dehydration,
  • High fever,
  • Severe abdominal pain,
  • Pain in the rectum,
  • Bile or blood stained stool.
Incessant vomiting and stooling will lead to a drastic loss of salts and fluids. This continuous loss of fluids without sufficient replenishment will result in dehydration, which can lead to multiple organ failure.