Named after a town in Ohio, the Norwalk virus became well-known after it caused an epidemic outbreak of gastroenteritis (or stomach flu) in the year 1972. This strain of virus, also known as norovirus, was first identified in Norwalk, which also gave its name. The virus is mainly found in the excreta of the infected individuals, with human beings acting as its only host. This virus can spread through the consumption of contaminated food and water, and also if a healthy person comes in contact with an infected one.
The Norwalk virus, the strain of which is also referred to as calicivirus, can enter the body through food or water contaminated with the stool of an infected person. This food-borne disease can also spread through other media like contaminated eggs, seafood (especially, shellfish harvested in contaminated water like sewage), ice, ready to eat foods, salad ingredients, etc. Eating half cooked food also increases the chances of Norwalk virus infestation.
The symptoms surface about a couple of days after the exposure to the virus, and may last for about two days or even prolong to several weeks, depending on the health of the individual. They are:
- Persistent diarrhea, that can be observed as loose or watery stools
- Abdominal cramping accompanied by discomfort
- Nausea-induced vomiting
- Low-grade fever and moderate headache
- Muscle aches and generalized body weakness
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for this viral infection as of now. The only remedy is to take complete rest, drink plenty of fluids, and practice proper hygiene. This disorder may resolve itself after a period of four to five days. Recovery may also depend on the health of the immune system of an individual. However, during this period, the infected person must take proper care so as not to spread the infection. The diagnosis comprises a series of tests conducted by the medical practitioner to detect the severity of the condition. The doctor may observe the symptoms exhibited by the affected person, and also test the stool samples to detect the presence of this virus. Once the diagnostic tests are carried out, the doctor may administer the appropriate treatment to help reduce the severity of this disorder.
- Since the individual may suffer from an acute case of dehydration, the doctors may advice ample rest and consumption of plenty of fluids. Water and fruit juices help replenish the water content in the body, and at the same time fruit juices provide the required nutrients.
- Oral rehydration solution (ORS) is also recommended by doctors, which help combat the symptoms of dehydration and to replenish the electrolytes in the body. You can make this solution at home or buy it from health stores.
- Eat foods that can be easily digested. It is also advisable not to drink milk during this illness since it contains complex sugars, which are difficult to digest. Milk also has the tendency to induce diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
- Caffeinated and carbonated drinks are best to be avoided in this condition. These substances contribute towards dehydration and can make the person more weak, prolonging the recovery process.
- In severe cases of dehydration, hospitalization may be required, where intravenous fluids and electrolytes may be administered to stabilize the health of the individual. Medications to bring down diarrhea and other problems may also be given intravenously.
Prevention and Precautions
This is one such viral illness that has no vaccine against it to prevent it from causing gastrointestinal disorders. Even antiviral medications seem to have no effect on the norovirus. Therefore, prevention is considered to be the best way to address this infection. Taking necessary precautions will curb the spread of this infectious disease. People who have been infected with this virus should not cook or do any other work, in order to prevent it from spreading. Washing hands thoroughly after every bowel movement or after coming from outside should be practiced for proper hygiene. After recovery, it is advisable to wash the bedding and clothes in disinfectant soap to destroy any residual viral growth.
Viral infections can cause lot of discomfort to a person, making it difficult to carry out routine work. To avoid infections of any kind, it is necessary to have a strong immune system by practicing good hygiene and healthy lifestyle.