Norovirus Symptoms

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Noroviruses are a very contagious group of viruses that cause gastroenteritis (stomach flu), an inflammation of the stomach lining and intestines, which leads to unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms. In healthy younger adults, norovirus is generally mild, but it can be severe in young children, older adults, or people with underlying health conditions.

This article discusses the symptoms, causes, and treatment of norovirus.

woman feeling sick to stomach

SolStock / Getty Images

Symptoms of Norovirus

Norovirus symptoms can come on quickly and last for several days. In severe cases, they can last even longer.

The primary symptoms of a norovirus include:

Less common symptoms of norovirus include:

Stay Hydrated

A norovirus can also cause dehydration due to diarrhea and vomiting. Drink plenty of clear liquids, especially if you notice signs like you're urinating infrequently, you have a dry nose and throat, or you are dizzy.

Causes of Norovirus

Norovirus spreads very easily, often through contaminated food or infected individuals.

Noroviruses are most common from November to April. The most common ways to contract norovirus are through:

  • Food: Norovirus is the most common cause of foodborne illnesses. It's typically found in contaminated leafy green vegetables (such as kale, spinach, and romaine lettuce), shellfish, and fresh fruit. It's often spread through food service facilities like restaurants.
  • Contact with infected individuals: Norovirus can be spread if someone touches contaminated feces or vomit and then comes in physical contact with an uninfected individual. This makes it common in healthcare facilities.
  • Contact with contaminated surfaces: You can infect yourself if you put your fingers in your mouth, for example, while eating or after touching a surface with norovirus particles on it.
  • Contact with contaminated water

Norovirus can become airborne from vomit, as well as spreading through contaminated foods and surfaces. You are most likely to infect others when you have symptoms or when you are in the first few days of recovery.

How to Treat Norovirus

Norovirus does not have a specific treatment.

Because it's caused by a virus, norovirus does not respond to antibiotics. There is no medication for norovirus, but it's important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and clear liquids. Don't take antidiarrheal medication without checking with your healthcare provider first.

Most people feel better within a few days.

Your best bet with norovirus is prevention, which includes the following:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.
  • Avoid surfaces that may have become contaminated.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables.
  • Cook shellfish thoroughly.
  • If you are around people showing symptoms of possible norovirus, avoid touching them without medical gloves, and dispose of the gloves carefully without touching anything or anyone.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces with a product approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that has a label claiming it can be used against norovirus. A chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of 1,000–5,000 ppm (parts per million) also works.
  • Wash contaminated clothing or linens.

Protect Others

If you have symptoms of norovirus, protect others by staying home, and be sure not to make food for other people.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You don't typically need to see a healthcare provider for norovirus, as it will run its course. However, there are times when you need to check in with a provider if:

  • Your symptoms don't go away in a few days.
  • You have bloody diarrhea.
  • You develop signs of moderate to severe dehydration, such as feeling dizzy, light-headed, weak, fatigued, or producing little or no urine.
  • You have an underlying chronic illness, such as kidney disease.

People over age 85 and under age 5 are more likely to need medical care that can't be provided at home. If your baby or child has norovirus, contact your provider if they are vomiting, having frequent diarrhea, or show signs of dehydration.

If you do go to a healthcare provider, be aware that you can easily spread the virus to others. Take precautions by not touching surfaces and by washing your hands thoroughly before you go.

Summary

Noroviruses are common and highly contagious gastrointestinal viruses. They spread through contaminated surfaces, food or water, or contact with infected individuals.

Norovirus can cause diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach cramps. Symptoms usually last for a few days.

There is no treatment for norovirus, but it typically resolves on its own. It's recommended to stay home and stay hydrated until your symptoms pass, because you can easily spread the virus to others. If your symptoms don't go away after a few days, contact a healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Norovirus is unpleasant, but it's not usually a cause for concern. It is highly contagious, so protect yourself and your community by taking precautions, such as washing your hands and avoiding contact with people who show symptoms. If your symptoms do not resolve on their own, don't hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the first signs of norovirus?

    Symptoms and signs can begin as early as 12 hours after exposure or within a couple of days. Nausea may appear first and be followed, sometimes quickly, by vomiting and diarrhea.

  • How is norovirus transmitted?

    Norovirus is highly contagious and transmitted by contact with feces or vomit of an infected person, contaminated surfaces, contaminated foods (including leafy green vegetables, fresh fruit, and shellfish), or contaminated water.

  • How do you get rid of norovirus?

    There is no medication for norovirus, which usually lasts a few days. To get rid of the virus indoors, wipe surfaces with a disinfectant cleaner, wear medical gloves around anyone with norovirus, wash fruits and vegetables, cook shellfish thoroughly, and wash your hands frequently, especially if you think you've been exposed.

  • What foods cause norovirus?

    Leafy green vegetables, shellfish, and fresh fruit are among the most common foods that become contaminated by noroviruses, typically after being handled by an infected food worker. However, any raw food, or cooked food that's then handled by an infected individual, can transmit the virus. Water can also be a source.

Was this page helpful?
7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Norovirus infections.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. General information about norovirus.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Burden of norovirus illness in the U.S.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How norovirus spreads.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Norovirus.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing norovirus.

  7. National Health Service. Norovirus.