Stomach bug/stomach flu (Norovirus)

norovirus-symptoms-259x300Ever had nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea that came on you quick and ran through you like a mack truck?  Ever feel like throwing up and at the very same time having to sit on the toilet? (gross, but true…)  Then you have probably experienced a “stomach bug” or “stomach flu” or maybe even thought you had “food poisoning”–all these phrases usually point to a the true culprit, Norovirus.

Norovirus is a nasty virus that is responsible for wreaking havoc on day care kids, college students, and even cruise line passengers around the world.  It causes rapid illness with severe nausea, what seems like never ending vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes explosive….ugh), headache, fever/chills, and abdominal pain/cramping.  Although sometimes called a “stomach flu”, it has no relation to influenza or the seasonal flu.  It is spread easily, with the virus particles living on contaminated surfaces for days and maybe even weeks (eww…) So…..bad news first.

Bad news:  We are seeing an increase in cases right now at SHS.  Norovirus spreads easily, especially in close quarters (i.e. pretty much every college environment).  It hits incredibly hard, and while it does not last long, it can take you a while to get your strength and food tolerance back.  Evidence shows alcohol based hand sanitizers are not effective against norovirus–but soap and water hand washing is.  Also bleach based solutions help disinfect, but those are not as easy to use on all types of surfaces.

Good news: While you may feel like it is never going to end when you are the one going through it, it actually usually moves out quick: most people recover in 1-3 days.  It is a virus, so there is no magic cure.  Most cases can be managed at home, with the right tools (see below), but if you are not improving or you cannot stay properly hydrated, we may need to intervene with IV fluids.

HOW TO TREAT IF YOU ARE SICK: The most important issue is hydration.  You lose a lot of fluids through vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.  While you may be scared to drink when you are vomiting or running to the bathroom so often, it is important to incorporate small amounts frequently to stay on top of your fluid balance.  You do absorb some fluids even if you are continuing to visit the bathroom often.  Use sports drinks, clear sodas (think Sprite, Ginger Ale, 7 Up), water, ice chips, clear broth soups–avoid dairy, alcohol or caffeine.  You can take over the counter medications for fever/aches (Tylenol or ibuprofen/Motrin) and nausea (sometimes they are boxed as motion sickness tablets)–if you need to stock up, come see our pharmacy.  Rest.  Clean contaminated surfaces with a diluted bleach solution (5 to 25 tbsp bleach per gallon of water).  WASH YOUR HANDS–you shed the virus in vomit and diarrhea.  Once you feel human again, start your stomach back on a bland diet–nothing spicy, greasy, or dairy–good starter items are crackers, clear soups, toast, applesauce, bananas, plain baked potatoes.  Take it slow until you can tolerate more foods.

Prevention:  WASH YOUR HANDS.  We can not say it enough.  Wash your produce well too when preparing food and cook items properly (norovirus can be spread through a sick person handling food).  Try to avoid sick persons if you can and wipe down used surfaces with the bleach solution mentioned above.  And again, WASH YOUR HANDS.

If you are sick and need advice, or if you have questions, call us at 252-328-6841 or email us at gotquestions@ecu.edu.  If you have been treating yourself and you are not getting any better, not able to hold down fluids, are not peeing regularly (a sign of hydration) or are having severe abdominal pain, you may need care by a health care provider.  Call us.  Sometimes IV fluids are necessary to help you.

oh, and WASH YOUR HANDS.

Source and more information:  CDC Norovirus Overview