Top 4 Norovirus Myths


Emetophobics beware: Norovirus shall soon be in the air. Actually, the virus is most likely to be on contaminated surfaces, in foods prepared by people suffering from the illness or in fecal matter. Yes, we know it’s gross. And due to its main symptom of vomiting, norovirus can be even more harrowing if you suffer from emetophobia. 

Norovirus season runs from November to March, Time magazine says, with its peak hitting around January. Isolating yourself in a germ-free balloon is not the only way to avoid it. Learning more about the virus can help you steer clear of it, and a good way to learn is to first kill off a few of the norovirus myths.

Myth 1: A flu shot is the best protection.

A flu shot actually provides no protection against the norovirus, since flu shots target the influenza virus. Norovirus is a strain of virus officially known as the Norwalk virus, which is a different strain than influenza. In other words, they’re two different animals.

Influenza, or the good ole flu, mainly attacks the nose and throat. Norovirus delivers its nastiness to the abdominal area, resulting in the condition also known as viral gastroenteritis, or specifically the stomach flu. Influenza and norovirus may share some of the same symptoms, such as nausea, overall body aches and a low-grade fever, but they aren’t even in the same flu family.

Since there is no shot that can help prevent norovirus, the best protection against it is frequent and thorough hand-washing. Tips from the Centers for Disease and Control explain what a thorough hand-washing looks like.

Hand-washing thoroughness involves:

  • Wetting hands and applying soap
  • Rubbing to create a lather, scrubbing all areas: between your fingers, the backhand, beneath your nails
  • Lathering, rubbing, rubbing some more for at least 20 seconds
  • Rinsing well with clean running water
  • Air drying or using a clean towel

Health magazine reports hand-washing with soap is more potent than hand sanitizers when it comes to killing off germs. Infected people should refrain from preparing food, touching laundry or otherwise coming in contact with things that can easily pick up and spread the virus to others. Using a bleach-based cleanser can help eliminate germs on hard surfaces.

Myth 2: A trip to the doctor can help get rid of it. 

Sorry, but just as there is no shot to prevent norovirus, there is no shot to magically cure it, either. The virus simply has to run its course, which usually lasts about two or three days. Even though there is no medicine to cure it, you can still try over-the-counter remedies to decrease some of the symptoms.

Pepto-Bismol and other remedies containing bismuth subsalicylate may be helpful for diarrhea, Health magazine reports, although you should steer clear of them if you have severe symptoms.

Severe symptoms of norovirus include blood in the vomit or diarrhea, high fever, inability to keep down water or other liquids. You may also be entering the severe-symptom zone if you’re not feeling better in about three days. Severe symptoms do merit a trip to the doctor, especially to ensure you’re not suffering from the virus’s biggest health risk. 

Myth 3: The biggest health risk is the vomiting. 

While the worst part of the norovirus may be the vomiting, especially for emetophics, vomiting does not pose the biggest health risk. The greatest risk actually comes from a condition caused by the combination of vomiting and diarrhea, and it’s the risk of dehydration.

Dehydration can stick you with additional symptoms on top of those you’re already experiencing due to the virus. Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluids than you take in, and symptoms include:

  • Decreased activity, fatigue
  • Dry mouth and extreme thirst
  • Dry skin and headache
  • Lack of tears while crying, lack of need to urinate
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness 

Severe dehydration symptoms can include:

  • Confusion and irritability
  • Lack of sweat
  • Shriveled skin
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid breathing and heart rate
  • Fever
  • Delirium or unconsciousness (in the most extreme cases) 

Water alone doesn’t take care of dehydration, nor are most sports drinks a good choice. Your body is losing water, sure, but it’s also losing electrolytes, which are a mix of potassium, sodium and other minerals. Health magazine says to replace them with a drink like Pedialyte, which contains an adequately balanced mix of salts, sugar and water.

Myth 4: You’ll know right away if you’re infected.

Norovirus does not strike rapidly. You usually don’t develop any symptoms until at least a day or two after you’ve been infected. This adds another layer of danger to the virus, since people can be infected and not even realize it, increasing the chances of them handling food or otherwise spreading it around without even knowing it.

The slow pace of norovirus is one of the ways you can tell the difference between norovirus and straight-up food poisoning. Norovirus is a virus that can be passed along through food, but the food itself is not the cause of the illness. Food poisoning consists of any illness that is actually caused by the food.

Unlike norovirus, food poisoning typically strikes rapidly, usually serving up symptoms within a couple of hours of exposure. Food poisoning symptoms can also be quite extreme. Because it hits so hard and fast, illness caused by food poisoning usually leaves the system much more quickly than norovirus does.

Norovirus is slow in its coming, and you should also take it slow in your recovery. That tip especially applies to eating. Although you may feel famished after you start to feel better, Health magazine cautions against diving into a large, stomach-loading meal. Overloading the stomach can make you feel sick all over again, so stick to light, low-fat meals and small portions of food as well as liquids.

Killing off the myths and arming yourself with knowledge can go a long way toward steering clear of the virus for yet another season. Good luck, stay well — and don’t forget to wash your hands!


Photo Credit: sovietuk