What’s Norwalk virus?

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Norovirus, also known as Norwalk virus, causes gastroenteritis and is highly contagious. It is estimated to cause 50% of intestinal ailments worldwide and is often contracted through contaminated surfaces or food. Treatment focuses on fluid replacement and rest. Outbreaks often occur in crowded settings like schools, prisons, and cruise ships.

Norwalk virus or norovirus is a virus that causes gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the gastrointestinal system. Noroviruses are estimated to account for approximately 50% of intestinal ailments worldwide each year, making it highly likely that you have had a personal encounter with the Norwalk virus. As a general rule, this virus is self-limiting, meaning it will clear itself up within a few days of infection, although the infected individual may not feel very comfortable during this process.

The Norwalk virus gets its name from an infamous school epidemic that occurred in Norwalk, Ohio. The virus is part of a much larger family known as Caliciviridae; norovirus has a characteristic round structure which makes it very easy to identify. Unfortunately for humans, this virus is extremely contagious, making it difficult to control once an outbreak occurs.

Norwalk virus infections usually cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. People may also feel sluggish or lightheaded. Many people call a Norwalk virus infection the “stomach flu,” referring to the general feeling of unwellness that accompanies it. Within a day or two, the infection usually goes away on its own.

Treatment for Norwalk virus infection primarily focuses on fluid replacement, ensuring that the patient remains healthy. Drinking liquids like water, tea, and juice can help; in extreme cases, intravenous fluids may be offered. Patients are also encouraged to rest and eat mild foods that are easy to hold onto. Infected individuals should also try to minimize contact with those not exhibiting symptoms, to reduce the risk of transmission. The use of chemicals such as bleach to clean surfaces is also recommended.

There are several ways to get Norwalk virus. Many people get it from touching infected surfaces, such as doorknobs handled by people with the virus. It can also be contracted through close contact with an infected individual and from eating contaminated food. Some foods are particularly prone to contamination, such as salads, which are not cooked before serving, and undercooked shellfish and meats.

Because the Norwalk virus is so contagious, it often manifests itself in crowded settings such as schools, prisons and cruise ships. Several cruise ship companies have struggled with outbreaks of the virus, which can make everyone aboard a ship rapidly ill as people eat the same food and share a large number of surfaces ranging from lounge chairs to doorknobs.

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