Norovirus is the common causative pathogen of stomach flu. This contagious infection spreads easily in crowded places such as restaurants, schools, and hospitals. Acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestinal lining) is the common symptom of a norovirus infection (1).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 200 million children younger than five years are infected with this virus every year (2). Also, this virus can infect a child more than once. Fortunately, as it spreads mainly via the fecal-oral route, a few simple preventive measures could help reduce the spread of the infection.
Read on to know more about norovirus symptoms in children and the infection’s risk factors and treatment.
How Long Does The Norovirus Infection Last?
Generally, the infection caused by norovirus lasts for a week in a child. However, once your child tests positive with the symptoms of norovirus, they are contagious (3).
Even after recovery, your child could be a carrier of the virus for up to two weeks (3). Although it may not be life-threatening, the virus may lodge itself within the intestine and cause irritable bowel syndrome for a few days. Hence, as a precaution, your child must maintain exceptional personal hygiene for at least two weeks after their recovery to avoid contamination.
Norovirus Symptoms In A Child
Norovirus has an incubation period of 12 to 48 hours (4). The symptoms of the infection are similar to that of any other gastrointestinal disease. Diarrhea is the predominant sign. The virus, after its entry, destroys the function of the intestinal lining and leads to malabsorption of water. This results in secretory diarrhea followed by severe to moderate dehydration. A few other symptoms may include (3):
- Low-grade fever
- Stomach cramps
- Body aches
- Bloody diarrhea
- Vomiting with green or red discharge
- Abdominal pain
- Reduced intake of liquids or inability to consume liquids
- Excessive irritability
Causes And Risk Factors For Norovirus Infection
Norovirus often affects those with a compromised immune system (4). Also, it spreads quickly in crowded areas. Children are physically near each other in schools and healthcare centers, so they are more susceptible to catching this stomach bug.
This virus spreads through the following ways (4).
- Sharing a utensil or cutlery with other ill people
- Eating or drinking contaminated food and water (especially when the food handler is infected)
- Maintaining close contact with infected people
- Consuming raw or undercooked meat, especially seafood
- Swimming in an unclean and contaminated pool
- Not maintaining proper personal hygiene after contacting a person infected with norovirus
- Consuming improperly washed raw fruits and vegetables
- Touching nose, mouth, and eyes with unclean hands
An asymptomatic carrier of norovirus could release the virus in their stools for up to two weeks after their recovery (3). As this virus spreads easily via the fecal-oral route, improper personal hygiene by such asymptomatic carriers could result in an outbreak. Similarly, dirty diapers from an infected baby could also be the reason for the spread in some cases.
How Is Norovirus Infection Diagnosed?
Norovirus infection is mostly diagnosed based on the symptoms since it is a short-term illness. But sometimes, your pediatric gastroenterologist may test your child’s stool sample to confirm their speculation (4). Blood tests may also be conducted to check for infection markers and rule out other problems.
Complications Of Norovirus Infection
As vomiting and diarrhea are the predominant symptoms of a norovirus infection, severe dehydration is a common complication. Decreased urinary output, tearless crying, and dry mouth are a few severe signs of dehydration that warrant prompt medical attention (6).
Treatment For Norovirus In Children
Norovirus infection recedes on its own within two to three days with proper bed rest. However, since dehydration is inevitable, it is recommended you give your child plenty of fluids (6).
Avoid providing any fluids up to 30 minutes after a vomiting and diarrhea episode. Start with clear liquids such as water, oral rehydration solution (ORS), juices, broths, ice chips, or Jello-O. Gradually increase the quantity of liquids. If your child accepts fluids for 12 hours, gradually include soft and bland food into their diet (7).
Abstain from giving your child any anti-diarrheal or anti-vomiting pills unless suggested by a doctor. In norovirus infection, the more these microorganisms are discarded from the body (through diarrhea), the higher the recovery rate. Also, since it is a viral disease, antibiotics are not effective.
Prevention Of Norovirus Infection In Children
Norovirus causes a transmissible disease. Hence, one can restrict the spread of norovirus by taking a few preventive measures. Here are the safety measures to follow during a norovirus outbreak (7) (8).
- Teach your children to wash their hands regularly with soap and water, especially after defecation. If there’s no access to water, they may use hand sanitizers.
- Avoid cooking any food if you are unwell with a gastrointestinal infection. You and your child must also abstain from consuming food prepared by an ill person.
- Clean the common contamination surfaces with a bleach-based cleaner.
- Wash your hands properly with soap and water after changing a baby’s diaper.
- Clean raw fruits and vegetables properly before consumption.
- Abstain from eating undercooked or raw seafood, especially oysters.
- Seal a baby’s diapers carefully and discard them is a locked cover. It would be best if you also used gloves while changing the diaper.
- Avoid sending your children to school during the infection and three days after the symptoms reduce.
- Refrain from traveling during an outbreak or if you seem symptomatic.
- Teach your children to avoid putting their fingers in their mouths.
- Wash all the clothes, linens, and utensils used by a norovirus-infected person before reusing them.
- Do not send your child to swimming pools during an outbreak season. Also, prevent them from visiting a pool if they’ve recently suffered from diarrhea.
A norovirus outbreak can happen throughout the year but is most common between November and April (9). If you observe any norovirus symptoms in children, remember that prevention is the best measure to reduce the spread of the virus. Plenty of rest and fluids should make your child feel better within a week. Good hygiene and precautions while preparing meals can help prevent the infection.
- Norovirus Worldwide.
- Stomach Flu (gastroenteritis).
- Shah M.P. and Hall A.J., Norovirus Illnesses in Children and Adolescents.
- Stomach Flu (Gastroenteritis).
- The Symptoms of Norovirus.
- Noroviruses (Norwalk Viruses).
- Norovirus Toolkit For School and Childcare Center Outbreaks.
- Burden of Norovirus Illness in the US.