The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that a new strain of norovirus has been discovered and that the United States experiences more norovirus outbreaks than most other countries, making it important to consult a seasoned attorney if you’ve become ill with the virus. At Schmidt & Clark, LLP, we’re passionate about your health and well-being.
What is Norovirus?
Norovirus is a highly infectious virus that is transmitted by eating contaminated food or water, touching contaminated surfaces, or from an infected person.
Although it is not always the cause of food poisoning, it is often the cause — in fact, the CDC estimates that norovirus causes more than 20 million cases of gastroenteritis illness every year in the U.S.
There is no vaccine to prevent the illness, no treatment once the illness begins (antibiotics do not help viral infections), and a person does not develop immunity after they are infected.
Is Norovirus Food Poisoning?
You may hear norovirus illness be referred to as “food poisoning,” the “stomach flu” or “stomach bug.” Noroviruses are the leading cause of foodborne illness, but other germs and chemicals can also cause foodborne illness. Norovirus illness is not related to the flu, which is caused by the influenza virus.
Each year in the United States, norovirus causes an average of:
- 900 deaths, mostly among adults aged 65 and older
- 109,000 hospitalizations
- 465,000 emergency department visits, mostly in young children.
What are the Symptoms of Norovirus?
It is estimated that nearly 23 million people in the U.S. suffer acute gastroenteritis from norovirus every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The most common food poisoning symptoms of an infected person include:
- Abdominal pain / cramps
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Severe dehydration
- Nausea / vomiting
- Low-grade fever or headache
Usually, a person will first start noticing the signs of a viral foodborne illness within 1 to 2 days after ingesting or coming into contact with contaminated water or food.
The symptoms of a gastroenteritis illness can last up to 5 days and cause significant personal injury including malnutrition, dehydration, or potentially even death. Young children and older adults contaminated with norovirus tend to experience severe illnesses, as do people with a compromised immune system, especially those in nursing homes or hospitals.
How is Norovirus Diagnosed and Treated?
Norovirus infection can be diagnosed based upon a medical patient's symptoms or the results of a stool sample. Treatment involves rest and fluids to replenish those lost through vomiting and diarrhea.
In cases where individuals are unable to hold any food or water down without vomiting, intravenous fluid may be recommended. Viral anti-diarrhea medications may also be prescribed, especially in elderly individuals who are over the age of 65.
If infants or young children are infected with medical norovirus infection, commercial oral hydration solutions such as Pedialyte are a good choice. Be aware that beverages containing a lot of sugar, such as fruit juices or fruit drinks, can actually worsen diarrhea. Adults, however, can drink oral hydration solutions like Gatorade.
To alleviate the frequency of vomiting and diarrhea, consuming the following food poisoning treatments of bland ready-to-eat foods can help:
- Starches and cereals, such as potatoes, noodles, rice, or crackers
- Broiled vegetables
What To Do After a Norovirus Diagnosis
As stated earlier, there's no specific treatment commonly used for norovirus infection, and properly recovering usually depends on the health of your immune system. In most people, the illness usually resolves within a few days. However, it is required for all individuals to replace lost fluid.
Oral rehydration solutions may be used. If you're unable to drink enough fluid to prevent dehydration, you might need to receive fluids through a vein. Your doctor also might recommend over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication.
- Swelling of the brain (cerebral edema) - In some cases, when you’re getting fluids again after being dehydrated, the body tries to pull too much water back into your cells. This can cause some cells to swell and rupture. The consequences are especially grave when brain cells are affected.
- Seizures - Electrolytes such as potassium and sodium help carry electrical signals from cell to cell. If your electrolytes are out of balance, the normal electrical messages can become mixed up, which can lead to involuntary muscle contractions and sometimes to a loss of consciousness.
- Low blood volume shock (hypovolemic shock) - This is one of the most serious, and sometimes life-threatening, complications of dehydration. It occurs when low blood volume causes a drop in blood pressure and a drop in the amount of oxygen in your body.
- Kidney failure - This potentially life-threatening problem occurs when your kidneys are no longer able to remove excess fluids and waste from your blood.
- Coma and death - When not treated promptly and appropriately, severe dehydration can be fatal.
Is Norovirus Contagious?
Yes. You can be contagious from a few days up to 2 weeks or more, depending on which virus is causing your gastroenteritis. The contagious period — the time during which a sick person can spread the illness to others — differs slightly for each virus.
With norovirus, you're usually contagious when you begin to feel ill and vomit. Symptoms usually appear within 1 to 2 days of exposure. Although you typically feel better after a day or two, you're at risk of spreading the virus for a few days after you properly recover. The virus can remain in your stool for a lengthy time of up to 2 weeks or more after transmission.
Should I Stay Home if I Have Norovirus?
In most cases, you should stay home or keep your kids home for 24 hours to three days after the symptoms of the illness subside.
This includes acute vomiting, diarrhea (loose stool), and fever. If your child is running a fever, he or she is more likely to spread germs to people they come into contact with. Even without a fever, stomach viruses are highly infectious and spread easily from person to person when you have symptoms.
It can be tempting to send your child to school if they went all night without significant complications, but waiting a full 48 hours after the last episode occurred is important because the symptoms could return. If you make it a full day and night with no severe symptoms, it is unlikely that they will reappear after that.
How Long Should You Avoid Someone With Norovirus?
You can get norovirus or another serious stomach flu from having direct contract with another infected person (i.e. kissing, sharing foods, or eating utensils with someone who is infected).
People with norovirus are contagious from the moment they begin feeling abdominal pain until at least 3 days after recovery. Some people may be contagious for even longer after recovering from the illness.
Is Norovirus Airborne?
When people infected with norovirus vomit, they produce virus fragments into the air that can infect other people, according to a 2015 study published in PLOS ONE. Norovirus is often called the "cruise ship" virus due to numerous outbreaks at sea.
Researchers created a device that simulated vomiting and used fake vomit contaminated with virus fragments similar to norovirus. Their experiments showed that vomiting releases virus particles into the air.
"When one person vomits, the aerosolized virus particles can get into another person's mouth and, if swallowed, can lead to infection," said study co-author Lee-Ann Jaykus, of North Carolina State University.
What is Gastroenteritis?
The symptoms of gastroenteritis include nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea accompanied by abdominal cramps. Some people also complain of headaches, fever, chills, and muscle aches. Symptoms are usually brief and last only 1 or 2 days.
However, during that period, people can feel very ill and vomit, often violently and without warning, many times a day. Symptoms usually begin 24 to 48 hours after ingestion of the virus but can appear as early as 12 hours after exposure.
Common Settings of Norovirus Outbreaks
Some of the most commonly reported settings associated with norovirus outbreaks include:
- Healthcare facilities - The most commonly reported setting for norovirus outbreaks in the U.S. and other industrialized countries is healthcare facilities, including long-term nursing homes and hospitals. Viruses can make contact through infectious patients, staff, visitors, or contaminated foods.Outbreaks in these settings can sometimes last months. Norovirus health complications can be more severe and occasionally even deadly in patients in hospitals or long-term care nursing homes when compared with healthy people.
- Cruise chips - Norovirus is the most frequent (over 90%) cause of outbreaks of diarrheal disease on cruise ships, which is why norovirus is also known as the “cruise ship virus.” Norovirus can be especially challenging to control on cruise ships because of the close living quarters, shared dining areas, and rapid turnover of passengers.When the ship docks, norovirus can be brought on board in contaminated food or water or by contact with passengers who were infected while ashore. Repeated outbreaks of gastroenteritis on consecutive cruises may also result from infected crew or environmental contamination. This is because norovirus can persist on surfaces for days or weeks and is resistant to contact with many common disinfectants.
- Restaurants and Catered Events - Norovirus is the leading cause of outbreaks from contaminated food in the U.S. About 50% of all outbreaks of food-related illness are caused by norovirus. Most of these outbreaks occur in food service settings like restaurants.Infected food workers are frequently the source of outbreaks in food preparation settings, often by touching ready-to-eat foods, such as raw fruits and vegetables, with their bare hands before serving them. However, any food served raw or handled after being cooked can get contaminated with norovirus.
- Schools and Childcare Centers - Norovirus outbreaks also frequently occur in schools, childcare centers, colleges, and universities. Norovirus outbreaks on school and university campuses have even led to campus closures. Close quarters, shared spaces, and high-touch surfaces make it easy for norovirus to spread in schools.
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Can Norovirus be Prevented?
You can help protect yourself and others from norovirus by washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water and following the simple prevention tips below. There is currently no vaccine to prevent norovirus; although, this is an area of active research.
A person can become infected with norovirus more than once. Although there is a short period of time (likely a few months) immediately following infection with norovirus that a person is protected from reinfection, it is only temporary protection.
Food Safety Tips
Some food safety tips that can help food from becoming contaminated with norovirus include:
- Carefully washing foods before preparing and eating them. Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before consuming them.
- Be aware that the virus is relatively resistant to heat. The bacteria can survive water temperatures as high as 145°F. Quick steaming processes that are often used for preparing shellfish may not heat foods sufficiently to kill the gastrointestinal infection caused by norovirus.
- Contaminated food that might be infected with viral norovirus should be thrown out.
- Keep sick infants and children out of areas where food preparation is taking place.
Why Should I Hire a Norovirus Lawyer?
If you become sick with a norovirus infection that you believe was caused by contaminated food or an infected food worker, be sure to seek medical treatment right away. In many cases, norovirus can cause dehydration, which if not treated properly, can lead to hospitalization and even death.
While most people recover from a norovirus foodborne illness in a few days, those who become extremely ill and are hospitalized or develop complications may face expensive and lengthy medical treatment.
Successful litigation against those negligent parties responsible for your illness can help compensate you for these costs and any ongoing treatment that may occur.
Get a Free Norovirus Lawsuit Evaluation With Our Lawyers
The Food Poisoning Litigation Group at our law firm is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focus on the representation of plaintiffs in Norovirus Food Poisoning Lawsuits. Our law firm is handling personal injury litigation nationwide and currently accepting new food poisoning cases throughout the United States.
If you or a loved one had symptoms of a norovirus infection, you should call a lawyer for a free consultation immediately. Victims may be entitled to compensation by filing a suit and our law firm can help.