CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — If you're experiencing nausea, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea, you may have a nasty stomach bug known as norovirus.
This virus is also referred to as the “winter vomiting bug," but area doctors are starting to see more cases in the summer.
The virus is very common; roughly 21 million Americans get the virus each year, according to the CDC.
The norovirus outbreak season typically lasts from December to April, and can last from 24 to 72 hours.
“But I have noticed that this year, we have had a lot episodes of an acute gastroenteritis, what we call a stomach flu,” said Thomas-Spann Clinic’s Dr. George Benavidez.
The symptoms are similar to those that occur from food poisoning or the stomach flu.
“After 12-48 hours of being infected, the person gets abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, loose stools, malaise, muscle aches, and fever. Most of the time folks do well with just oral hydration and time,” said Benavidez.
The virus is highly contagious and commonly spread through food or water that is contaminated during preparation or contaminated surfaces.
“The norovirus is a very common stomach flu virus that occurs throughout the year. It occurs in places you have several people in group settings such as pre-schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and cruise ships,” said Benavidez.
If the virus is contracted, it’s important to stay hydrated.
“To be able to avoid this, know what kinds of foods you are eating, where is the food coming from, make sure it is not contaminated to begin with. Wash all your fruits and vegetables with a little soap and water to try to remove the virus; wash your hands after you go to the bathroom. If you have a person that is contaminated, just close contact is enough to get sick from that particular person,” said Benavidez.
Most people will recover fully from norovirus, but it can become serious or even fatal in some patients, such as infants or the elderly.
Norovirus symptoms last one to three days, and most people recover completely without treatment.
However, for some people — especially infants, older adults and people with underlying disease — vomiting and diarrhea can be severely dehydrating and require medical attention.
Norovirus infection occurs most frequently in closed and crowded environments such as hospitals, nursing homes, child care centers, schools and cruise ships.
Signs and symptoms of norovirus infection include:
• Abdominal pain or cramps
• Watery or loose diarrhea
• Low-grade fever
• Muscle pain
Signs and symptoms usually begin 12 to 48 hours after first exposure to the virus and last one to three days. You may continue to shed virus in your feces for up to two weeks after recovery.
Viral shedding may last several weeks to several months if you have an underlying health condition.
Some people with norovirus infection may show no signs or symptoms. However, they are still contagious and can spread the virus to others.
When to see a doctor:
Seek medical attention if you develop diarrhea that doesn't go away within several days. Also call your doctor if you experience severe vomiting, bloody stools, abdominal pain or dehydration.
Noroviruses are highly contagious and are shed in the feces of infected humans and animals. Methods of transmission include:
• Eating contaminated food
• Drinking contaminated water
• Touching your hand to your mouth after your hand has been in contact with a contaminated surface or object
• Being in close contact with a person who has a norovirus infection
Noroviruses are difficult to wipe out because they can withstand hot and cold temperatures as well as most disinfectants.
Risk factors for becoming infected with norovirus include:
• Eating in a place where food is handled with unsanitary procedures
• Attending preschool or a child care center
• Living in close quarters, such as in nursing homes
• Staying in hotels, resorts, cruise ships or other destinations with many people in close quarters
• Having contact with someone who has norovirus infection
For most people, norovirus infection clears up within a few days and isn't life-threatening.
But in some people — especially children and older adults with compromised immune systems in hospitals or nursing homes — norovirus infection can cause severe dehydration, malnutrition and even death.
Warning signs of dehydration include:
• Dry mouth and throat
• Decreased urine output
Children who are dehydrated may cry with few or no tears. They may also be unusually sleepy or fussy.
Norovirus infection is highly contagious, and anyone can become infected more than once. To help prevent its spread:
• Wash your hands thoroughly, especially after using the toilet or changing a diaper.
• Avoid contaminated food and water, including food that may have been prepared by someone who was sick.
• Wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
• Cook seafood thoroughly.
• Dispose of vomit and fecal matter carefully, to avoid spreading norovirus by air. Soak up material with disposable towels, using minimal agitation, and place them in plastic disposal bags.
• Disinfect virus-contaminated areas with a chlorine bleach solution. Wear gloves.
• Stay home from work, especially if your job involves handling food. You may be contagious as long as three days after your symptoms end. Children should stay home from school or child care.
• Avoid traveling until signs and symptoms have ended.