Is It the Stomach Bug or Something New?

April 27, 2024

by  | Apr 28, 2024 | Walk In Clinic

Is It the Stomach Bug or Something New?

As you prepare for your annual family picnic, memories of last summer’s unfortunate event linger in your mind. Half of your extended family fell ill, and though the culprit was never identified, suspicions of foodborne illness, particularly norovirus, were rampant. This year, extra precautions are in place: more shade, personal coolers, and a commitment to proper food handling.

Understanding Norovirus: The Real Stomach Flu

Norovirus, often mistakenly called the “stomach flu,” is a highly contagious virus that causes gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. It is one of the top five foodborne pathogens in the U.S., leading to significant illness each year. According to the CDC, norovirus causes over 70,000 hospitalizations and around 800 deaths annually, primarily among the elderly and young children.

The Symptoms and Spread of Norovirus

Recognizing Norovirus Symptoms

Norovirus symptoms typically appear within 12 to 48 hours after exposure and can last for 1-3 days. Key symptoms include:

  • Nausea and Vomiting: Intense and persistent.
  • Diarrhea and Stomach Cramps: Severe and often continuous.
  • The symptoms can mimic those of influenza, making it difficult to distinguish between the two without a lab test.

How Norovirus Spreads

Norovirus is notoriously easy to catch and spreads through:

  • Direct Contact: Touching or sharing utensils with an infected person.
  • Contaminated Food and Water: Particularly raw or undercooked shellfish and inadequately washed vegetables.
  • Contaminated Surfaces: Touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching your mouth.
  • Outbreaks are common in close quarters like daycares, nursing homes, and schools. Even a small number of virus particles can cause an infection, and the virus can linger on surfaces for weeks.

How to Prevent Norovirus

Hand Hygiene

The most effective defense against norovirus is thorough handwashing. Hand sanitizer is not effective against norovirus, so it’s crucial to wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially:

  • Before eating and preparing food.
  • After using the bathroom.
  • After changing diapers.

Surface Disinfection

Disinfect surfaces using a bleach solution (3/4 cup of bleach per gallon of water), letting it sit for five minutes before wiping it up. For non-bleach alternatives, check the EPA’s list of effective antimicrobial products.


If you or a family member is infected, stay home and avoid contact with others to prevent spreading the virus. Do not prepare food for others until at least three days after recovery.

Managing Norovirus and Its Complications

Dehydration is a major risk, particularly for the very young, elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. Symptoms include:

  • Reduced Urination and Dark Urine
  • Dry Mouth and Throat
  • Dizziness and Weakness
  • Headache
  • Children may also exhibit fussiness, tearless crying, and excessive grogginess.

Due to vomiting and diarrhea, staying hydrated is crucial. Sip water and electrolyte solutions like Gatorade or Pedialyte, and eat small amounts of food to keep it down.

When to Seek Medical Help

Seek our medical team at AFC Urgent Care Fountain City if you experience:

  • A fever over 102°F (38.9°C)
  • Extreme drowsiness or incoherence
  • Severe dehydration symptoms
  • No improvement after 48 hours

Norovirus is highly adaptable and can mutate, meaning immunity to one strain doesn’t guarantee protection against others. Outbreaks are common from November to April, but they can occur year-round. Proper hygiene and food safety practices are your best defense against this unpleasant virus.

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it’s easy to overlook proper hygiene. However, the high contagion rate and severe symptoms of norovirus underscore the importance of consistent handwashing and food safety. By staying vigilant, you can protect yourself and your family from the misery of norovirus and enjoy your family gatherings without worry.

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