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Understanding Norovirus

Norovirus is a virus that causes severe gastrointestinal problems. It is more commonly known as the stomach flu, although it is not a respiratory illness like influenza. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or CDC), Norovirus is the most common cause of foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States.

Norovirus is spread most commonly from ready-to-eat foods. It can infect via food or water. In terms of food, salad ingredients and shellfish are some of the most likely culprits of Norovirus infection.

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Each year, according to the CDC, Norovirus is the cause of 19-21 million illnesses. Out of these illnesses, 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations are required and 570 to 800 deaths occur.

Famous Outbreak: Norovirus was brought into public attention in 2015 after two separate outbreaks occurred at individual Chipotle restaurants. It appears as if both outbreaks occurred due to a Chipotle employee who worked while sick.

Signs and Symptoms

Norovirus is first and foremost a pathogen that causes something called “gastroenteritis.” The symptoms will usually appear after 24 to 48 hours of infection, and the illness typically lasts one to three days.

If that sounds too tame for you, know this: Norovirus is highly contagious. Its symptoms are an exhausting mix of very severe diarrhea and vomiting, as well as nausea, abdominal pain, fever, headache and body aches. Norovirus food poisoning can lead to severe dehydration, as well as hospitalization and even death.

The symptoms of Norovirus include:

Norovirus infections in healthy individuals generally last one to three days; however these infections can be more serious in children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. In people with these risk factors, Norovirus may cause severe dehydration or malnutrition.


Diarrhea and vomiting can cause dehydration, which has symptoms such as decrease in urination, dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy upon standing. Drinking plenty of water and getting plenty of rest is the best treatment for Norovirus. Contact a health professional if you cannot drink enough water or sport drinks to avoid dehydration.

Unfortunately, there is currently no medication or vaccine available to treat Norovirus.


Potential Causes

Norovirus is commonly transmitted from person to person. Practicing proper hand washing, washing vegetables and fruits prior to consumption, and disinfecting surfaces where food is prepared will help to reduce the risk of infection. Any person suffering from a Norovirus infection is encouraged to avoid crowded areas as well as contact with other individuals to prevent transmission.

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