Norovirus - hospital

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What Is Norovirus?

Norovirus is a virus (germ) that causes an infection of the stomach and intestines.Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain.

There are many viruses that belong to the norovirus group. This group of viruses spreads very easily. Outbreaksin health care settings occur rapidly and can be hard to control.

More about Norovirus

Symptoms start within 24 - 48 hours of being infected and can last for 1 - 3 days. Because diarrhea and vomiting can be severe, becoming dehydrated (dried out) is common.

Hospital patients who are very old, very young, or very ill are at the greatest risk of harm from a norovirus illness

Anyone can become infected with norovirus. This infection can occur at any time during the year. It can be spread when someone:

  • Touches an object or surface that has been contaminated, then placing their hands in their mouth. (Contaminated means the norovirus germ is present.)
  • Eats or drinks contaminated food or drink.

It is possible to be infected with norovirus more than once in your life.

Most cases do not need testing. In some cases, testing for Norovirus is done to understand an outbreak (for instance in a hospital setting). This test is done by collecting and sending a sample of your stool and vomit to the lab.

Treating Norovirus

The treatment for norovirus does not require the use of antibiotics. Receiving plenty of extra fluids through a vein (IV, or intravenous) is the best way to prevent the body from becomingdried out(dehydrated) while the illness takes its course.

Symptoms will most often resolve in 2 - 3 days. Although patients may feel better, they can still spread the virus to others for up to 72 hours (in some cases 1 - 2 weeks) after their symptoms have resolved.

Preventing the Spread of Norovirus

Hospital staff and visitors should always stay home if they feel sick or have a fever, diarrhea, or nausea. This action will help protect everyone in the hospital. Remember, what may seem like just a small problem for you can be a big problem for someone in the hospital who is sick.

Even when there is not a norovirus outbreak, staff and visitors must wash their hands often.

  • Washing hands with soap and water prevents the spread of any infection.
  • Alcohol based hand sanitizers can be used between hand washing.

Patients infected with norovirus are placed in contact isolation.

  • This prevents the spread of germs among the staff, the patient, and visitors.
  • Isolation will last until 48 - 72 hours after symptoms have gone way.

Staff and health care providers must:

  • Use proper garments, such as an isolation gown and gloves when entering the patient’s room
  • Wear a mask when there is a chance of splashing of bodily fluids.Always clean and disinfect surfaces patients have touched using a bleach-based cleaner.
  • Limit moving patients to other areas of the hospital
  • Keep patient belongings in biohazard bags and throw away any disposable items

Anyone who visits a patient who has an isolation sign outside their door should stop at the nurses’ station before entering the patient’s room.


Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 4/9/2012
  • Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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