What are Norwalk Viruses (Noroviruses)?
Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause “stomach flu”, “stomach bug” or gastroenteritis in humans. Although people often refer to noroviruses (or Norwalk virus) as “flu”, the virus is not an influenza virus, and getting a flu shot does not prevent it. Sometimes called food poisoning, but it is not always transmitted in food, and there are other types of food poisoning, and not in the family of norovirus. Symptoms come very suddenly, but the disease is very short, usually only one to three days. Although norovirus is very nasty while you have it, most people do not have negative long-term health effects.
The Norwalk virus was named Norwalk, Ohio, where there was an epidemic in the 1970s.
Today, similar viruses are called noroviruses or Norwalk-like viruses. Regardless of what they are named, this stomach virus is the second (behind the common cold) in the occurrence of viral illnesses in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported over 267 million cases of diarrhea in 2000, and estimates from 5 to 17 per cent of these may be caused by the Norwalk virus.
Cruising ships are not the only place where you can pick up this awkward bug! Of the 348 epidemics reported in the CDC between 1996 and 2000, only 10 per cent were in separate settings such as cruise ships. Restaurants, nursing homes, hospitals and day care centers are most likely places to get a norovirus.
Which treatment is available for people with Norwalk virus infection?
Because the Norwalk virus is not bacterial, antibiotics are ineffective in treating the disease. Unfortunately, like a common cold, there is no antiviral drug that works against the Norwalk virus and there is no vaccine to prevent infection.
If you get vomiting or have diarrhea, you should try to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, which is the most serious health effect that may arise from Norwalk virus or norovirus infection.
Can Norwalk Infection Be Prevented?
You can reduce your chances of contacting a Norwalk Virus on a cruise ship by following these preventive steps:
Often you wash your hands, especially after using the toilet, changing diapers and before eating or preparing food. Use a bleach-based cleanser to clean and disinfect the contaminated surfaces immediately after the illness episode. Immediately remove and wash clothes or bedding (with warm water and soap) that can be contaminated with a virus after a disease episode. Throw any sponge and / or stool in the toilet and check that the environment is clean.
Obtaining a Norwalk-type virus or norovirus can destroy your vacation, but the fear of getting this virus should not keep you home. Use appropriate sanitation procedures and remember that you are likely to get sick in your hometown!