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Norovirus: What Every Parent Should Know

Parents have a lot on their plates these days. It seems like every week or month there’s a new medical condition to learn about, or a new perspective on what’s healthy (or unhealthy) for our children. To a large extent, making the best health choices for children and families is an ongoing process, and staying informed is an important piece of the puzzle.

Norovirus is something that many parents still haven’t heard of, but it’s getting quite a bit of attention these days, especially due to a flurry of recent outbreaks on cruise ships. In the past 20 years, there have been over 200 reported outbreaks of norovirus aboard cruise vessels.

The statistics given by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) are truly striking:

  • Norovirus is responsible for around 20 million cases of gastroenteritis every year
  • Every year, nearly 2.5 million people visit urgent care centers, emergency departments, and other medical facilities seeking treatment for symptoms of norovirus
  • Most of those 2.5 million medical visits are for young children
  • As with influenza, children and elderly people are more susceptible to the effects of the virus

Norovirus tends to occur in groups of people who spend a lot of time in close contact. In fact, parents are right to be concerned about this problem, given the fact that the first confirmed norovirus outbreak occurred in 1968 amongst a group of elementary school children in Norwalk, Ohio. That’s what it’s called “norovirus.”

What is it, and what are the symptoms?

It’s clear that norovirus should be taken seriously by parents, so let’s review the basics. Norovirus is actually a group of viruses that lead to gastroenteritis, which is essentially inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Norovirus is sometimes referred to as food poisoning or stomach flu—although it is not influenza, and is not always transmitted by contaminated food.

People can become infected with norovirus through:

  • Contaminated food
  • Consuming foods that are undercooked or raw
  • Touching surfaces that have been contaminated, followed by touching of the face
  • Close contact with someone who has been infected with norovirus

Common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Nausea and pain in the stomach
  • Fever, aching in the body, and headaches

Treatment and Prevention?

Since norovirus is not a bacterial infection, antibiotics don’t work against it. Unfortunately, there isn’t any medicine or drug that works to knock out the virus. As with influenza, the patient is made as comfortable as possible while the virus runs its course. Dehydration is often an issue, as diarrhea caused by norovirus depletes the body of fluids. Common treatment includes bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and sometimes taking oral rehydration salts to further replenish the body’s fluids.

Preventing norovirus is the best strategy. So how do you protect your children and family against this virus?

  • Strong hygiene practices, especially washing hands
  • Very strong hygiene around food preparation and consumption
  • Be careful around loved ones who have the virus and be aware that it can spread through close contact or lack of proper hygiene
  • Wash fruits and veggies thoroughly
  • Avoid undercooked or raw seafood
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect areas that may have been contaminated
  • Immediately wash any clothing (including bedding) that may have been exposed
  • Ask your child’s schools and daycare centers what they’re doing to prevent norovirus

What to do if you suspect an infection

If you suspect that someone in your family has been exposed to norovirus, or is exhibiting symptoms, head straight for your local urgent care center (or other medical treatment center) for diagnosis and treatment.

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