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Norovirus: Another Vomit/diarrhea Bug Going Around

A nasty little stomach bug called Norovirus has been going around our community for the last few weeks. While we (the medical field in general), don’t usually do specific testing (it’s expensive and time consuming for something we don’t have a cure for), the kids that have gotten testing for one reason or another have all come back positive for Norovirus. And for every kid I’m seeing in the office with it, we are fielding twice as many calls about it, so I know it’s out there.

Overall, Norovirus is the number one reason for diarrhea visits to the doctor (it causes vomiting too). Symptoms of the virus typically start 12-48 hours after being exposed. Once symptoms are apparent, the virus typically lasts 24 to 72 hours (although the strain I’m seeing has seemed to last a bit longer, unfortunately). A person who has had Norovirus can shed the virus for up to 2 WEEKS after recovering from the bug. Whoa, that means that once a person feels better and goes back to work, school, daycare, they can continue to infect everyone that they come in contact with for the next 2 weeks. No wonder it spreads like wildfire!

Norovirus Symptoms

  • Sudden onset vomiting
  • Watery (not bloody) diarrhea (often seen after the vomiting as the virus moves down the GI tract)
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Low grade fever
  • +/- Headaches
  • +/- Body aches

How do I get Norovirus?

  • Touch contaminated surfaces (then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes)
  • Handle clothes/laundry with infected poop or vomit
  • Contaminated food
  • Contaminated water
  • Direct contact with an infected/sick person
  • Because of the spread from contaminated food and water, norovirus has been linked to many outbreaks, some of which have received a lot of press (think restaurants, cruise ships, etc.)

Now for the all important question…

Should I take my kid to the doctor if I suspect Norovirus?

The short answer is: probably not. There is very little to do for it (essentially just prevent/treat dehydration). There is no cure for Norovirus. Since it is a virus, an antibiotic will not help. There is no vaccine. The only way to prevent it is to stay away from sick people, diligent hand-washing, and cleaning infected surfaces/laundry. The reason a child needs to be seen is if he or she is vomiting so much or has so much diarrhea that the child is dehydrated. At that point, the child may need IV fluids or IV medication to stop the vomiting. Generally speaking, though the virus is absolutely miserable, is usually short-lived, and usually doesn’t cause long-term complications. With that said, if your child is particularly young (younger than 6 months) or experiencing unusually severe symptoms, you should probably take your child in. Examples of severe symptoms include signs of dehydration (unable to keep any fluids down, decreased urination, dry mouth, no tears when crying) or uncontrollable vomiting (i.e., it has been essentially continuous for hours).

As a parent, I think the vomit bug is one of the worst. May you escape this bug unscathed!