HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — “We are in the height of norovirus season,” said Dr. Jill Roberts, Associate Professor for the USF College of Public Health.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, norovirus is at a 12 month high.
Doctors attribute the lack of norovirus circulating in the community up until now, to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing.
“It seems like over the past couple of weeks, norovirus has made a big comeback and we have definitely been seeing a lot more cases than we have over the past couple of years,” said Dr. Lisa Cronin, pediatrician with North Pinellas Children’s Medical Center.
Norovirus is commonly referred to as the ‘stomach bug’ or the ‘stomach flu’ but it’s not related to the flu at all.
It’s an extremely contagious virus that causes gastrointestinal issues like vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain, and sometimes fever.
Experts said it’s most commonly spread in places like restaurants, on cruises, and in healthcare environments.
“We can kind of talk about how it’s spread. It’s a fecal oral route which means basically poop gets into someone’s mouth. How does that happen? You ingest food that’s contaminated, water that’s contaminated, even through swimming,” said Roberts.
She told ABC Action news it only takes a few particles of the virus to make a person sick.
"That’s one of the major reasons why it spreads so quickly. Just need a little bit around and everybody gets sick," said Roberts.
According to experts, norovirus also seems to be resistant to alcohol.
“First and foremost, it is really important to know that hand sanitizer does not do a good job of killing norovirus,” said Cronin.
“The single most important thing is hand washing, okay? The hand sanitizers that we were using during COVID does not seem to work against norovirus, but soap and water does,” said Dr. David Berger, board certified pediatrician at Wholistic Pediatrics and Family Care.
When someone does get sick, staying hydrated is the best way to treat symptoms.
“A lot of people will say, well they’re going to throw it up. Yeah, but they’re going to throw up anyway. The point is get as much fluid as you can into the individual so they don’t get to that point where they’re suffering from dehydration,” said Roberts.
Making sure kids are drinking enough is crucial.
“Rather than letting them drink six or eight ounces at a time, doing an ounce or two every 15, 20 minutes is actually a better way. Smaller amounts of fluid, more frequently are more likely to stay down and be better absorbed by the stomach,” said Cronin.
“When a person has the infection, the absolute most important thing is hydration. And hydration doesn’t just mean water,” said Berger.
Doctors recommend also hydrating with things like sports drinks and Pedialyte.
“What I tell my parents of really young kids, even getting a dropper and if you have to syringe liquid into their mouth you know every five, 10 minutes just give them a dropper full. Those are some things that can really help,” said Cronin.
Doctors also recommend eating a bland diet if you’re infected.
“Easy to digest foods like crackers, rice, bananas, apple sauce, scrambled eggs, things like that,” said Cronin.
If someone in your household does get the virus, it can be difficult to maintain it and keep it from spreading to everyone.
“If you are able try and pick a bathroom in your house for the person with symptoms and make that kind of designated their bathroom and try and keep other people out of that bathroom if possible,” said Cronin.
To help contain the illness in the household, experts also suggest cleaning often using rubber gloves and bleach and washing any soiled clothes or sheets in very hot water and detergent.
While in most cases people get over the virus in a few days, pay attention to these warning signs someone may need medical attention:
- Prolonged stomach pain for kids near the belly button
- Constant fevers that aren’t coming down with medication
- Decreased urine output
“Meaning maybe for babies less than four or five wet diapers in 24 hours and for older kids if they’re peeing less than two or three times in 24 hours,” said Cronin.
“Make sure if you have any concerns with little kids— they start to get lethargic, their eyes look sunken, their skin changes a little bit, reach out to healthcare providers. With elderly individuals, they can actually show signs of dementia when they’re dehydrated,” said Roberts.