Written by Home Doctor Brisbane Team
Your go-to guide
The stomach bug or gastroenteritis is caused by a few different viruses, of which the norovirus is the most common. Norovirus gastroenteritis also known as the ‘gastric flu’, ‘stomach flu’, ‘winter vomiting’ or ‘viral gastro’ is caused by a virus in the digestive system.
The norovirus alone has as many as 25 strains and it is very hard to distinguish between them, however they do share common symptoms. These include cramping, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
What causes norovirus?
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. Stomach flu is caused by many types of virus, but the norovirus is the most common.
What are the symptoms of norovirus?
The symptoms of food poisoning and stomach bugs such as norovirus are similar and are often misdiagnosed.
If you have a stomach bug, or viral gastroenteritis, you may have one or more of the following symptoms:
- stomach cramps
- weight loss
- joint aches
- muscle aches.
The symptoms of food poisoning usually appear two to six hours after initial exposure and typically don’t last longer than two days.
Symptoms of stomach bugs, such as norovirus, on the other hand, tend to occur within 24-48 hours of being exposed to the virus.
How is norovirus spread?
Norovirus is highly infectious and is spread from the vomit or stool (faeces) of an infected person through:
- direct contact with vomit or stool of an infected person
- person-to-person contact, for example shaking hands with someone who has been sick and has the virus on their hands
- contaminated objects
- contaminated food or drink – oysters and other shellfish can sometimes become contaminated with norovirus from dirty water
- airborne particles when people vomit.
Norovirus outbreaks commonly occur in settings where there are many people in close quarters, such as cruise ships, day-care centres, retirement homes, dining halls, school dormitories and hospitals.
Treatment for norovirus
Unfortunately, there is no treatment for norovirus, nor is there a vaccine. When people are ill with diarrhoea or vomiting, it is imperative they remain hydrated.
Vomiting and diarrhoea can cause dehydration, which must be avoided. Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, and if needed add electrolytes to replace lost minerals and salts from the body. Avoid juice or sugary drinks. It could make the symptoms worse.
If you start to run a high temperature, have dark urine or get dizzy when you stand, chances are that you are severely dehydrated, so get medical help immediately.
Avoid solid food till the stomach settles. Start slowly with small pieces of dry toast or crackers. If you can keep it down, have a little bit more. If not, stop all solids.
Keep rested and avoid coming into contact with others, given the highly contagious nature of the virus.
Are noroviruses contagious?
Yes, noroviruses are highly contagious. People infected with norovirus can spread the virus from the day they start to feel ill to at least two days after diarrhoea or vomiting stops.
How long does a stomach bug last?
Many cases of the stomach bug resolve within a couple of days. However, it’s not uncommon to feel sick for as many as 10 days.
The longer the symptoms persist, the more you should be in touch with your doctor to rule out any complications or other illnesses.
How to prevent an outbreak of a stomach bug
Learn how to protect yourself and others by following a few simple steps:
Maintain good personal hygiene
Hand washing is imperative when you or someone around you has a stomach bug. 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 sanitiser. 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
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. Carefully rinse fruits and vegetables in clean water and take care to properly prepare seafood.
Disinfect contaminated surfaces
After someone vomits or has diarrhea, put on disposable gloves to immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces. It’s best to use a bleach-based household cleaner, as directed on the product label as chlorine bleach solutions and wipes are effective at killing norovirus. Make sure to disinfect doorknobs, toilets, sinks and other frequently touched surfaces in your home. Disinfecting 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 faeces. Handle soiled items carefully—try not to shake them —to avoid spreading the virus. If available, wear disposable gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash your hands after handling. Wash items with detergent at the maximum available temperature and cycle length, then machine dry.
Children and stomach bugs
Norovirus in children is extremely common because kids spend so much time in close quarters at school. Young children and babies are especially susceptible, as they tend to put their hands, toys and other objects in their mouths.
Keep a sick kid home from school and activities until he or she is eating and drinking normally, has had no fever for 24 hours and has not had an episode of vomiting or diarrhea for at least 48 hours.
Have you or a loved one ever been affected by a stomach bug?