Per guidance from the Centers and Disease Control (CDC), Dr. Ravi Kavasery shares helpful insights to help Californians navigate Norovirus this winter and spring. With Norovirus positivity rates hitting upwards of 13% in the Western Region in 2023, staying informed is key.
What is Norovirus?
Norovirus is a contagious, airborne, and foodborne virus that causes acute vomiting and diarrhea. It is commonly referred to as the "stomach flu" or a common "stomach bug," but it is not in the influenza (flu) family. It can be spread through very few aerosols/droplets from person to person or contaminated surfaces, as the virus can live on surfaces for hours, if not days. While Norovirus can be seen throughout the year, it is typical to see an uptick in the virus during winter months.
How serious is the Norovirus?
While Norovirus infects millions globally each year, bringing 1-3 days of discomfort, it usually resolves itself on its own and is rarely life-threatening. We all have gotten very good at washing our hands with soap and water, cleaning surfaces, and staying home when feeling ill to prevent and stop the spread – all of which are essential in keeping communities safe during our current Norovirus surge. However, if you are infected, please stay hydrated, as dehydration is the leading cause of hospitalization with this virus.
How can you tell if you have been infected with Norovirus?
Since this is more of a gastrointestinal virus, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea are experienced most frequently. Many of us have experienced respiratory viruses in the last three years, like COVID-19, flu, colds, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), but Norovirus infects a different part of our bodies.
How effective are hand sanitizers in preventing infection?
We are seeing that old-fashioned hand washing, with warm water and soap, is much more effective in killing Norovirus than anti-bacterial agents.
What do I do if I'm sick?
Please stay home. Make sure to keep surfaces clean, and thoroughly launder soiled towels and clothing. Contact your healthcare provider if you experience severe vomiting, bloody stools, dehydration, stomach pain, or if your symptoms persist more than several days.
Why is there a particular uptick in cases throughout California?
California is a densely populated state. And with normal routines of being in public places, we are seeing cases rise accordingly. However, if the simple actions mentioned here are taken, we should be able to make it through this current surge quickly.
I’ve also seen Shigella mentioned in the news – what is it?
Shigella is a bacterial infection, and similar to Norovirus, the symptoms are primarily gastrointestinal. Those who have been infected suffer from diarrhea, fever, and stomach pain. While Shigella has been somewhat common in the past, there is a new strain of the infection, and we are currently monitoring the strain and how it presents itself.
If your stool becomes bloody, your condition continues beyond three days, or you are suffering from severe dehydration, you might have Shigella versus Norovirus. Antibiotics are usually used to treat the condition if it doesn't clear up on its own, but this new strain in the United States seems to be resistant to the antibiotics that are typically prescribed. Follow the same precautions as above to reduce your risk of contracting Shigella. Contact your health care provider if you have diarrhea that is bloody, severe stomach cramping or tenderness, especially if you have these symptoms in addition to a fever.
Dr. Ravi Kavasery is vice president, Cost of Health Care at Blue Shield of California.