Hello, stomach bug
Meet winter’s Public Enemy No. 1: norovirus, also known as one of the causes of stomach flu or the cruise ship virus. Norovirus is everywhere: Responsible for around 20 million illnesses in the U.S. every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s associated with more than two-thirds of outbreaks of gastroenteritis (basically inflammation of the stomach and intestines, usually due to infection with a virus or bacteria). Norovirus is responsible for almost half of gastroenteritis-related hospitalizations—and 86 percent of deaths. It’s the most common culprit in children’s stomach infections. (Here are some clear signs of getting sick you should look out for.)
You can catch norovirus from an infected person, a contaminated surface, or contaminated food and water (ick alert: It’s spread by droplets of fecal matter and vomit). It’ll aggravate your stomach and intestines, which can cause intense pain and nasty vomiting and diarrhea that’ll keep you within a 10-foot radius of a toilet for about a full day or two. Keep in mind that even though people sometimes call it a stomach flu, that’s a bit misleading. Norovirus is completed unrelated to influenza, which is a respiratory virus that doesn’t usually cause diarrhea or vomiting. That means your annual flu shot will not protect against norovirus.
Getting sick can often be inevitable if you’re exposed to the germs that cause illness. But these tips may help protect you and your family (and help you recover safely if you do fall ill).
Know your enemy
It’s called the cruise ship virus for a reason—norovirus is so contagious that it can spread like wildfire, especially in a confined area like a cruise ship. “When people are acutely ill with norovirus, they shed up to 1 billion viral particles in each gram of stool,” says Robert Frenck, MD. an infectious disease expert and professor in the department of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “We have done studies that show as few as 1,000 viral particles can make you sick.”
Norovirus is also brilliant in that its very unpleasant side effects—diarrhea, vomiting—cause you to spread it to others, according to Stephen Prescott, MD, president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
“The best option for staying healthy, of course, is to not be exposed to norovirus in the first place,” he said on the OMRF website. “But if you or a loved one gets sick, isolation and common sense are the best ways to stop the spread.” Here are 20 things the flu virus doesn’t want you to know!