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Prevent the Spread of Norovirus

Family eating at restaurantNorovirus causes many people to become ill with vomiting and diarrhea 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 gastroenteritis (GAS-tro-en-ter-I-tis), which is inflammation of the stomach and intestines. This leads to cramping, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Norovirus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S.

CDC estimates that each year Norovirus causes 19 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 5 times during their lifetime. Many people usually get sick with norovirus in cooler months, especially from November to April.

Norovirus Symptoms

Common symptoms:

  • cramping
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

Less common symptoms:

  • low-grade fever
  • chills
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • fatigue

Norovirus spreads quickly. It is found in the vomit and stool of infected people. You can get it by:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus
  • Touching surfaces or objects with norovirus on them and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth
  • Having direct contact with a person who is infected with norovirus, for example, when caring for someone with norovirus or sharing foods or eating utensils with them

People with norovirus illness are contagious from the moment they begin feeling sick and for the first few days after they recover. Some people may be contagious for even longer. There is no vaccine to prevent norovirus infection or drug to treat sick people. Learn how to protect yourself and others by following a few simple steps.

Person washing hands with soap

Wash hands carefully with soap and water.

Protect Yourself and Others from Norovirus

  • 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.
  • Take care in the kitchen
    Carefully rinse fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating.
  • Do not prepare food while infected
    People with norovirus illness should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for at least 2 days after they recover from their illness. Also see For Food Workers: Norovirus and Working with Food.
  • Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces
    After throwing up or having diarrhea, 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.
  • Wash laundry thoroughly
    Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. Handle soiled items carefully—try not to shake them —to avoid spreading virus. If available, wear rubber or 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.
Infographic: Setting of norovirus outbreaks reported through the National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS), 2009-2012. Health care facilities equalled 2,189 or 62.7% of outbreaks. Restaurants or banquet facilities equalled 771 or 22.1% of outbreaks. School or daycare facilities equalled 214 or 6.1% of outbreaks. Private residences equalled 69 or 1.9% of outbreaks. Other/multiple settings equalled 251 or 7.2% of outbreaks. Data on specific settings are restricted to outbreaks with a single exposure setting; for foodborne outbreaks, setting refers to the setting where implicated food was consumed.

Common Norovirus Outbreak Settings

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.

Many Names, Same Symptoms

You may hear norovirus illness called "food poisoning" or "stomach flu." Norovirus can cause foodborne illness, as can other germs and chemicals.

Norovirus illness is not related to the flu (influenza). Though they may share some of the same symptoms, the flu is a respiratory illness caused by influenza virus.

For most people norovirus illness is not serious and they get better in 1 to 3 days. But it can be serious in young children, the elderly, and people with other health conditions. It can lead to severe dehydration, hospitalization and even death. To learn more about dehydration and how to prevent and treat it see norovirus treatment.

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