Think You Have Food Poisoning? It's Probably A Norovirus

Norovirus is the culprit behind what is commonly called the "stomach flu" (actually no relation to the influenza virus), the "24 hour bug" or acute gastroenteritis, which is inflammation of the stomach and the small intestine. This illness is one of the biggest reasons for trips to the ER or to urgent care.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of this illness can include the following:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Head and body aches

It is worth noting that some of these same symptoms are noted in infants and children, and the culprit is the rotavirus. In adults, the campylobacter bacteria can also cause gastroenteritis.

Routes of Infection

Norovirus can spread rapidly in day-care centers, nursing homes, work environments, or schools. There are several reasons for this:

  • It can be found in the stool or vomit of people who are infected with it. The virus can be aerosolized (spread through the air for short distances), so if you are standing close to someone who is vomiting, you could catch it.
  • Food-handlers who haven't thoroughly washed their hands can spread it.
  • It can also contaminate surfaces or objects which can be spread to a person's hands and get on food.
  • It can be spread by direct contact with a person who has it in various ways such as caring for them or sharing/touching cups or other food utensils.


While there is no specific treatment for norovirus, symptoms can lead to dehydration, so you should find ways to hydrate yourself or someone you or caring for. An oral rehydration solution can be made by mixing the following:

  • 6 teaspoons (30 ml) sugar
  • ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
  • 1 quart (1 litre – not exactly equivalent but close enough) water

It's important to measure to get the best results from this drink. A mild flavoring may be used, or you can use hot water and steep tea bags in it. Sports drinks and commercially made rehydration drinks can be used as well.

Medicines for symptom relief such as emetics or antidiarrheals can be prescribed or bought over-the-counter.  You should seek medical attention if,

  • You have been vomiting for more than 2 days.
  • You have blood in your vomit or stools.
  • You still having abdominal pain after 2 days.
  • Your symptoms are very severe.

It may be that your symptoms are being caused by something else, or that you need more intensive treatment.


The norovirus can live a long time on surfaces, but cleaning solutions that contain bleach will kill it. This virus can also live awhile in fabrics, so anything that could have been contaminated should be washed and then dried at high heat setting. Thorough hand-washing is the best tactic to prevent the spread of this virus. Unfortunately, ordinary hand sanitizers are not as effective.

If you or your family members have had it, you should not return to work/school until your symptoms are completely gone.