A Highly Contagious Stomach Bug Is Surging in the US—Here’s Where It’s Worst

Updated: Mar. 27, 2024

Experts say it's "the leading cause of vomiting and diarrhea from acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines) among people of all ages in the United States."

Nothing sparks fear in a shared space quite like incidence of a stomach bug. One in particular that seems to creep up every few years is back, and it’s infamous for both its high transmissibility (contagiousness) and its intensely unpleasant symptoms.

Norovirus is most common from November through April, according to the CDC, and it’s currently seeing an uptick across the country, with one region experiencing the highest rates of infection.

Experts report the highest rate of transmission for norovirus has been in the Northeast, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. It’s been reported that in this region, 13% of norovirus tests administered in a clinical setting came back positive for the week ending February 17, 2024.
The Midwest is next with 10%, followed by the Western states at 12%.
So far it appears the Southern states are seeing the lowest rate of norovirus, at just over 9%.

Symptoms of norovirus

The CDC lists the following as norovirus symptoms:
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches

Hydrating and rest are recommended. If you or someone you are caring for has symptoms of dehydration such as less frequent urination, dry mouth or throat, or feeling dizzy when rising to stand, you should contact a healthcare provider for further advice and treatment.

How norovirus spreads

While you may have heard of norovirus spreading on cruise ships or in relation to shellfish, like oysters, this is typically from a strain of the virus that’s related to food poisoning. There are multiple strains of the virus, and the current predominant strain tends to spread quickly through contaminated water, close contact with someone who has the virus, or droplets in the air or on surfaces.

The CDC reports that norovirus symptoms usually come on within 12 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus. Sometimes the symptoms can be severe, leading to complications such as dehydration and hospitalization. For less severe cases, norovirus symptoms usually subside after one to three days.

Norovirus reportedly infects 685 million people around the world each year, according to the CDC. It’s reported it infects two million children each year, causing 50,000 pediatric fatalities. The CDC notes these severe cases happen mostly in developing countries.

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The CDC lists frequent hand washing as one of the ways to help prevent norovirus, as well as thorough cleaning if someone in your home is infected.

The organization also notes that hand washing is preferred over hand sanitizer, which doesn’t seem to work as well against the virus. Additionally, the CDC stresses that continuing to wash hands and sanitize surfaces long after you feel better will prevent the disease from spreading in your home since it can be present in body waste for two weeks or more in some cases.