Norovirus is a pathogen that spreads quickly and easily. It causes vomiting and diarrhea that come on suddenly. Millions of people get ill with norovirus each year. You can help protect yourself and others by washing your hands often and following simple tips to stay healthy.
Noroviruses are a group of related viruses that can cause inflammation of the stomach or intestines, also known as gastroenteritis. This leads to cramping, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
The CDC estimates that each year in the United States norovirus causes 19 million to 21 million illnesses, 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations, and 570 to 800 deaths. Anyone can get infected with norovirus, and you can get it more than once. It is estimated that a person will get norovirus about five times during their lifetime. Norovirus outbreaks occur throughout the year, however, more than 80 percent of reported outbreaks occur from November to April.
Norovirus spreads quickly, as it is found in the vomit and feces of infected people. You can get it by:
- Having direct physical contact with a person who is infected with norovirus, for example, caring for or shaking hands with an ill person and then touching your hands to your mouth
- Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus
- Touching surfaces or objects with norovirus on them and then putting your hands in your mouth
People with norovirus illness are most contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill and for the first few days after they recover. Some people may be contagious for even longer.
There is currently no vaccine available to prevent norovirus infection or drug to treat sick people. Learn how to protect yourself and others by following a few simple steps:
Clean, then disinfect the entire area after someone vomits or has diarrhea.
Practice proper hand hygiene. Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers, and always before eating or preparing food. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. These alcohol-based products can help reduce the number of germs on your hands, but they are not a substitute for washing with soap and water.
Handle and prepare food safely. Carefully rinse fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating. People with norovirus illness should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for at least two days after they recover from their illness.
Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces. After someone vomits or has diarrhea, put on disposable gloves to immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label. If no such cleaning product is available, you can use a solution made with 5 tablespoons to 1.5 cups of household bleach per 1 gallon of water. Always clean up the entire area immediately after someone with norovirus vomits or has diarrhea . It will help keep others from getting sick from norovirus.
Wash laundry thoroughly. Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or poop. Handle soiled items carefully—try not to shake them —to avoid spreading virus. If available, wear disposable gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash your hands after handling. Wash soiled items with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dry.
Norovirus spreads quickly from person to person in enclosed places like nursing homes, daycare centers, schools, and cruise ships. It is also a major cause of outbreaks in restaurants and catered-meal settings if contaminated food is served or people handing food are ill.
Most people with norovirus illness get better in one to three days. But it can be more serious in young children, the elderly, and people with other health conditions. It can lead to severe dehydration, hospitalization and even death.