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Short Questions and Answers About Norovirus

What are Noroviruses?
Noroviruses (formerly Norwalk virus) are a group of viruses that cause the “stomach flu,” or gastroenteritis (GAS-tro-en-ter-I-tis), in people. The term norovirus was recently approved as the official name for this group of viruses. Several other names have been used for noroviruses, including:

• Norwalk-like viruses (NLVs)
• caliciviruses (because they belong to the virus family Caliciviridae)
• small round structured viruses.

Viruses are very different from bacteria and parasites, some of which can cause illnesses similar to norvirus infection. Viruses are much smaller, are not affected by treatment with antibiotics, and cannot grow outside of a person’s body.

What are the symptoms of illness caused by noroviruses?
The symptoms of norovirus illness usually include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and some stomach cramping. Sometimes people additionally have a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a general sense of tiredness. The illness often begins suddenly, and the infected person may feel very sick. The illness is usually brief, with symptoms lasting only about 1 or 2 days. In general, children experience more vomiting than adults.

What is the name of the illness caused by noroviruses?
Illness caused by norovirus infection has several names, including:

• stomach flu – this “stomach flu” is not related to the flu (or influenza), which is a respiratory illness caused by influenza virus.
• viral gastroenteritis – the most common name for illness caused by norovirus. Gastroenteritis refers to an inflammation of the stomach and intestines.
• acute gastroenteritis
• non-bacterial gastroenteritis
• food poisoning (although there are other causes of food poisoning)
• calicivirus infection

How serious is norovirus disease?
People may feel very sick and vomit many times a day, but most people get better within 1 or 2 days, and they have no long-term health effects related to their illness. However, sometimes people are unable to drink enough liquids to replace the liquids they lost because of vomiting and diarrhea. These persons can become dehydrated (loose too much water from their body) and may need special medical attention. During norovirus infection, this problem with dehydration is usually only seen among the very young, the elderly, and people with other illness.

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