The Basic Facts of Norovirus
A norovirus variant referred to as the Sydney 2012 strain (so called due to where it has emanated from) poses a significant risk to the people of not only Australia, but Japan, New Zealand, France, and now the United Kingdom where it has spread. So what is a norovirus and why does it pose such a health risk?
Norovirus is the term used for viruses that are the most common cause of gastroenteritis, often referred to as the “stomach flu” despite not technically being connected to influenza. Typically this virus is spread through the transmission or consumption of food or water contaminated by fecal matter, through person-to-person contact, or via the aerosolization of the virus contaminating surfaces.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States have found that norovirus accounts for over 21 illnesses each year, with approximately 70,000 of those cases requiring hospitalization and as many as 800 resulting in death.
This particular strain of norovirus has sickened many in Australia and New Zealand and spread to Europe where in the United Kingdom it has accounted for over 4,000 cases, up 63% from the previous year. Important to note is that for approximately every laboratory-confirmed case, scientists estimate that there are as many as 288 unreported cases, meaning that more people transmit the disease and suffer from the effects than can be properly tracked.
Norovirus proves more dangerous in some cases than just influenza due to the increased degree of dehydration that can result from the excessive and projectile vomiting and diarrhea. Additionally, those stricken with norovirus experience stomach cramps, headaches, and fever, which many sufferers confuse with influenza.
So what is the difference between flu and norovirus? In many instances, symptoms can be similar although the differences typically revolve around the fact that the flu is an infection of the upper respiratory system resulting in coughing, runny nose, chills, and a sore throat. As previously mentioned, norovirus results in symptoms primarily associated with the gastrointestinal system. The H3N2 strain currently circulating throughout the United States has caused more severe flu symptoms leading to some confusion between what is causing the symptoms.
Many are wondering if, on top of the influenza outbreak that has been plaguing the United States in recent weeks, the country will see the introduction of the Sydney 2012 norovirus strain as well.
Both norovirus and influenza can and should be managed in the same fashion including:
Over-the-Counter pain relievers for a reduction in aches and pains as well as fever.
Consume plenty of fluids especially those that have salt and sugar such as juice or sports drinks.
Avoiding contact with others for at least five days, the period during which you will be contagious.
Get plenty of rest.
While there is no treatment for norovirus, you can receive a flu shot to help prevent contracting the flu this season. Follow the above guidelines and if necessary visit your local Emergency Room or physician if you are concerned by your symptoms.