Oh Norovirus! Stomach Bug Myths & Facts

Oh Norovirus! Stomach Bug Myths & Facts

Norovirus. Just hearing the word makes you, well, queasy. But what exactly is it? Is it the same as the flu? What can you do to speed relief if you catch it?

Dr. Matthew Hilton from Holland Hospital Family Medicine offers answers and untangles norovirus myths from facts:

Fact or myth: Norovirus is the same as the flu. That’s why people call it the “stomach flu.”

Myth. Flu is caused by the influenza virus and characterized by sore throat, chills, body aches, runny nose, and coughing. Norovirus is a gastrointestinal illness that leads to diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates a person will get norovirus about five times during their lifetime. Norovirus outbreaks often peak from November to April.

Fact or myth: Norovirus is food poisoning.

Myth. While you can get norovirus from sharing the food or drink of someone who has it, or eating or drinking something that has been contaminated with the virus, food poisoning is caused by a bacteria found in the food. However, practicing good food hygiene is still critical. That means not sharing food from people you know are sick, washing fruits and vegetables, and cooking your food appropriately.

Fact or myth: You can prevent norovirus.

Fact. The best prevention method is washing your hands well and often. Other precautionary steps include:

  • Avoiding people who have symptoms. Do not share their food or drink.
  • Not eating raw/undercooked meat or seafood. Carefully wash produce.
  • Building up your immunity by eating well-balanced, nutritious meals, getting quality sleep and exercising regularly.

Fact or myth: Pregnant women are in particular danger if they get norovirus.

Myth. Research has shown no unique harms of norovirus during pregnancy. That said, because vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, women who are pregnant should do everything they can to prevent contracting norovirus. Pregnant women with norovirus should stay well hydrated and rest up. If you run a high fever, have contractions or can’t keep down liquids, go to the emergency room.

Fact or myth: There are medicines that will kill norovirus.

Myth. Unfortunately, there are no effective antivirus medications for norovirus. The good news is, although norovirus is unpleasant, symptoms typically disappear within one to three days. The biggest danger is dehydration, so the best way to care for yourself if you have norovirus is drinking plenty of fluids and resting.

Fact or myth: You can get norovirus from touching a computer keyboard.

Fact. You can get norovirus from touching any surface (e.g., keyboards, faucets, doorknobs, phones) that someone with the illness has already touched. Norovirus is highly contagious. That’s why washing your hands frequently is so important.

Remember, as with most other common illnesses, prevention is the best medicine. See your doctor if symptoms persist or if you can’t keep fluids down, have a high fever or are experiencing pain.

Protect Yourself: Know the Best Way to Wash Your Hands

Whether it's norovirus, influenza or the common cold, the best way to prevent the spread of infection is proper handwashing. Infection Control Coordinator Rachel Ellens, BSN, demonstrates in this video.

  • Matt Hilton, DO

    Matt Hilton, DO

    Dr. Hilton received his undergraduate degree in Nutrition Science at Purdue University. He graduated medical school at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO. He completed his family medicine residency at Metro Health Hospital in Grand Rapids. He then went on to complete a sports medicine fellowship at Metro Health Hospital.

    Outside of the office and training room he enjoys staying active with triathlon training, cooking healthy food, exploring West Michigan with his wife and two young boys and catching a concert if he ever has a chance.

    Dr. Hilton welcomes patients of all ages at Holland Hospital Family Medicine  Zeeland and Holland Hospital Sports Medicine.

    Matt Hilton, DO

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