Norovirus

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that is found in the stool (poop) and vomit of a person who is sick with the virus and causes diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain. Some people refer to norovirus as "stomach flu" or "food poisoning". Norovirus isn't related to the flu, but it is one of the leading causes of foodborne illness.

  • Norovirus causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines, which leads to diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. People usually get sick about 1 to 2 days after being exposed to the virus.
  • Most people get better in 1 to 2 days, but dehydration can be a problem for some people, especially kids, elders, and people with other health conditions.
  • Norovirus is very contagious. It's spread when an infected person handles food or touches items, or through the vomit or poop of infected individuals. It can survive on surfaces for days or weeks, and not all disinfectants will kill the virus.
  • You can prevent the spread of norovirus by washing your hands well with soap and water. If you're sick, stay home from work or school, and don't prepare food for other people.
  • We investigate cases of illness that are linked to eating in restaurants or other food establishments in Whatcom County. If you have symptoms of foodborne illness after eating out, email us or call 360-778-6000 to let us know.

Symptoms

Common symptoms of norovirus are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal (stomach) pain
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Fever

Symptoms usually start 1 or 2 days after the virus enters your body, but they can begin as early as 12 hours after you are exposed. Most people will recover in 1 or 2 days and have no long-term health effects. Some people can become dehydrated and need extra care. Small children, seniors, and people with other health conditions are most at risk for dehydration.

How It's Spread

People with norovirus can be infectious (meaning they can spread the virus to other people) 24 hours before their symptoms start. You can also spread norovirus while you have symptoms and up to 48 hours after your symptoms go away.

You can get norovirus through:

  • Direct contact with an infected person (i.e. touching an infected person while caring for them).
  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with the virus.
  • Sharing utensils or cups with people who infected with the virus.
  • Touching a contaminated surface and then putting your unwashed hand in your mouth.

Norovirus can spread quickly in enclosed places like daycare centers, nursing homes, schools, camps, and cruise ships. When someone with norovirus vomits or flushes the toilet, the virus travels through the air in small droplets. It can stay on objects and surfaces and still infect people for days or weeks.

Prevention

The single most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of getting norovirus and spreading it to others is to practice good handwashing. To wash your hands well, scrub all surfaces of your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Then dry them with a clean towel or paper towels.

You can also reduce the risk of spreading by norovirus by:

  • Washing fruits and vegetables before eating them.
  • Cooking food thoroughly.
  • Not preparing food or caring for others while you are sick.
  • Cleaning the area around a sick person well.
  • Staying home from work, school, or childcare if you're sick.

Norovirus isn't killed by some disinfectants, making it difficult to get rid of. Follow these steps to clean areas where a sick person is present.

  • Clean up vomit and diarrhea immediately by wiping with paper towels. Dispose of towels in a plastic bag.
  • Have everyone within a 25-foot radius wash their hands. Dispose of all uncovered food, and wash and disinfect all utensils within that area.
  • Use soap and water to wash contaminated surfaces and all "high-touch surfaces", like door knobs and toilet handles, within a 25-foot radius.
  • After washing with soap and water, rinse with plain water and then dry the area with paper towels.
  • Disinfect the cleaned surfaces by applying a bleach solution. To make a bleach solution, mix 1 cup of regular household bleach (5.25% concentration) with 1 gallon of water.
  • Leave surfaces wet with the bleach solution for at least 5 minutes.
  • Rinse anything that will be used for food or that will come into contact with your mouth with plain water before use.
  • When the clean-up process is done, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

If you work in food handling, healthcare, or child care and you have nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea:

Do not return to work until at least 24 hours after your symptoms have gone away. Illnesses with vomiting and diarrhea can spread easily from one person to another through food contaminated by a sick person or by touching shared surfaces like bathrooms and work spaces.

More Information

Center for Disease Control (CDC) Norovirus