Keep in mind, too, that norovirus cases are only expected to go up from here. “Kids are back in school,” which always boosts the risks of germs spreading, Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells SELF.
People, in general, are interacting more these days, too. “For a couple of years, we’ve all been in semi-lockdown,” William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells SELF. “This gives viruses the opportunities to spread, and norovirus is trying to get back to near-normal levels.” Norovirus “always has some winter seasonality to it,” Dr. Adalja adds.
Norovirus symptoms are straight-up awful.
Let’s just say you and your toilet would become well acquainted. The CDC notes that the most common symptoms of norovirus include watery diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach cramps or pain. Some people may also get a fever, headache, or body aches.
And you can expect to feel exhausted from it all. “If given the options, I would take three weeks of a cold, cough, and fever over 48 hours of a stomach bug because it can really knock your socks off,” Anita Gorwara, MD, family medicine physician and director of urgent care at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, previously told SELF.
Thankfully, you should feel better pretty fast.
People usually develop norovirus symptoms between 12 to 48 hours after they’re exposed to it. From there, the illness usually lasts between one to three (very drawn out) days. “It can make you really miserably sick,” Dr. Schaffner says. “You just feel miserable.” Still, “most people recover just fine,” he adds.
Unfortunately, you just have to ride this one out. There’s no specific treatment for norovirus, but Dr. Adalja says you can try to feel a bit better at home by taking something like Pepto-Bismol and other anti-nausea meds. Of course, trying to stay hydrated—even though eating and drinking will feel tough—is important. Having soups and beverages you like on hand can help.
Dehydration is a risk because vomiting and diarrhea speed up fluid loss, which can be especially concerning in very young children, older adults, and people who are immunocompromised.
So, if you get “really, really sick”—meaning you can’t keep anything in or down‚ you’re in severe pain, you’ve had diarrhea for more than three days, or you see blood in your poop or vomit, Dr. Schaffner says it’s time to get urgent medical care, especially if you have an underlying health condition, like diabetes. (“Norovirus can send your diabetes control out of whack,” he notes.) If you’re dealing with symptoms of dehydration, it’s possible you may need to receive IV fluids to avoid potential complications, the CDC notes.
There are a few things you can do to reduce your chances of dealing with norovirus.
Again, norovirus can be hard to avoid when it’s making the rounds, but you should still try your best to stay safe. The CDC recommends washing your hands well and often, especially after using the toilet, changing diapers, before giving yourself or someone else medicine, and before eating, preparing, or handling food. “Good hand hygiene is really important,” Dr. Schaffner stresses. “Even if a small amount of [norovirus] is on a banister or doorknob, it can make you sick.” Hand sanitizer is helpful, too, if you need something in a pinch.
If someone in your home is dealing with relentless vomiting or diarrhea, you’ll also want to clean and disinfect commonly-used surfaces frequently (and immediately, if there’s an accident somewhere). Washing laundry promptly is a smart move, too.
Bottom line: Norovirus sucks, but it’s usually over quickly. Doing your best to prevent it by keeping your hands and home clean will go a long way in keeping this bug (and others) out of your future.
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