How do I know if I have norovirus?

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Do you have norovirus or the flu?

The flu and norovirus share many of the same symptoms (Shutterstock)


As the United States braces for what may be one of the worst influenza seasons in recent years, individuals additionally experiencing symptoms of nausea, vomiting and fever may actually might have developed norovirus, a highly contagious infection commonly spread through food or water contaminated with fecal matter.

The Mayo Clinic notes most people with norovirus recover without medical treatment; however, seniors, infants and individuals with compromised immune systems may require medical care as a result of dehydration. If symptoms become too intense or prolong, consulting with a doctor is recommended.

What are the symptoms of norovirus?

Like the flu, norovirus generally lasts for a few days and often has accompanying symptoms of:

  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Low-grade fever
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps

However, unlike the flu, which the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) state is a respiratory illness, norovirus primarily affects the stomach and causes inflammation known as gastroenteritis. Also unlike the flu, norovirus is not considered a serious illness, though it can lead to dehydration or even death in debilitated patients.

How can you tell if you have the flu or if you have norovirus?

Man with swollen stomach due to norovirus

Norovirus symptoms are often more intense than those associated with the flu (Shutterstock)

According to an interview with Dr. Joshua Kosowsky, vice chair and clinical director of Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s emergency department,there may be some overlap of flu and norovirus this season, and it is very possible for an individual to develop both.

To try and determine which condition may be occurring, Kosowsky explains, symptoms of the flu usually involve:

  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Extreme cases sometimes have nausea and vomiting or other gastrointestinal signs

When it comes to norovirus, the symptoms are usually more intense and tend to involve the stomach and intestines only, with an occasional fever. Because the virus is spread through fecal material, norovirus spreads quickly in close environments and is common in households, places of employment and close-quarters such as cruise ships.

The CDC explains norovirus can spread easily through contaminated foods, by simply touching a surface contaminated with norovirus and then touching the mouth, and by having close contact with another person who has norovirus.

There is no vaccination for the infection and no specific treatments. Antibiotics will not work on a virus like norovirus.

How can you prevent norovirus?

To help decrease the risk of norovirus, proper hygiene is one of the most important considerations. Preventative methods include:

  • Always wash foods prior to eating
  • Wash laundry thoroughly with detergent and then machine dry
  • Use bleach cleaning products to decontaminate surfaces
  • Do not cook if you are infected with norovirus
  • Wash hands thoroughly, especially after using the bathroom
  • Avoid shellfish which may have come from contaminated water
  • Stay home if you think you may have norovirus to prevent its spread to others

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