How to treat (and prevent the spread of) norovirus at home

February 23, 2022 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

Everyone, at some point in life, has probably experienced the unpleasant symptoms of viral gastroenteritis.

It’s common and very contagious. Often referred to as “stomach flu,” it’s not actually influenza. It’s caused by a virus that inflames your gastrointestinal tract.

Norovirus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis. Its infection can lead to an extremely unpleasant 24-36 hours.

What are the symptoms of norovirus?

Symptoms typically begin 1 or 2 days after the virus enters your body, usually after someone accidentally gets the tiny particles from an infected person’s feces or vomit in their mouth. 
This can happen when someone eats or drinks something contaminated with the particles, touches something with the particles on it, then touches their mouth or has direct contact with someone who’s infected through taking care of them or sharing their eating utensils.

The symptoms can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Stomachache

Gastroenteritis must run its course and clear on its own, as there is no medication to treat it. Luckily, most people feel better within a day or two.

To avoid dehydration, people infected should try to drink as much decaffeinated liquid as possible. Start with a small amount and increase if there is no vomiting. When you feel like eating again, start with small amounts of bland food such as crackers, dry toast, bananas, oatmeal or rice.

Stopping the spread of norovirus

Norovirus spreads easily. When an infected person vomits or has diarrhea, billions of microscopic viral particles are shed and can splatter on surfaces where they can stay and infect people for days or weeks. The virus is very contagious and only takes 100 or fewer viral particles to infect someone.

Preventing the spread of norovirus is possible but takes extreme vigilance:

  • Clean. When someone vomits or has diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect all surfaces with a chlorine bleach solution made up of 5–25 tablespoons of household bleach [5.25%] per gallon of water or another disinfectant registered as effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Wear disposable gloves and avoid touching your face while cleaning. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after cleaning.
  • Do laundry. Wash any clothing, towels or other fabric that may be contaminated with vomit or feces in the hottest water possible for the longest cycle possible, then dry in a dryer. Handle the fabric carefully; shaking it could cause viral particles to spread through the air.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often. Wash with soap and water after changing diapers, using the bathroom, before eating or preparing food, and after cleaning up after someone who’s ill. Hand sanitizer alone will not kill norovirus.
  • If you’re sick, don’t prepare food for others. Wait 3 days after recovering from the illness to prepare food for others, as you can still spread the virus after you feel better.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating. Cook food thoroughly. Dispose of any food that may be contaminated with norovirus.

Self-care at home is the primary treatment for a norovirus infection. Call a doctor if someone infected with norovirus seems severely dehydrated, if symptoms last longer than 3 days or if they experience severe vomiting or bloody stools.

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