How Long Does Norovirus Last?

©  Duncan Hull

© Duncan Hull

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus, and individuals can be exposed to Norovirus by consuming food or water that is contaminated with the virus.  It can also be passed on by close contact with someone who is infected. Once an individual is exposed to Norovirus, he or she will usually begin showing symptoms of Norovirus illness—including abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting—24 to 48 hours after the exposure but sometimes in as little as a few hours.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), symptoms of the Norovirus illness generally last only one to three days in normal, otherwise healthy individuals.  The length of time can vary significantly depending on a number of risk factors, including age, living conditions, work or school conditions, and the overall health of an individual’s immune system.

The length of time for which an individual’s Norovirus illness lasts can be significantly lengthened if he or she becomes dehydrated. This can happen due to extensive vomiting and diarrhea, and can lead to serious medical problems if untreated. According to the Mayo Clinic, infants, young children, and elderly people are particularly susceptible to becoming dehydrated while suffering from Norovirus because they can lose a greater fraction of their body fluids more quickly.  It is also possible due to the lack of communication with  their caretakers about getting more fluids if they feel thirty.

Individuals with impaired immune systems are also likely to have Norovirus illness lasting longer than the average one to three days. This could include individuals with autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes or lupus.  Individuals living permanently with diseases or immunodeficiency disorders such as HIV/AIDS or multiple sclerosis (MS).  Even individuals with temporarily weakened immune systems due to recent infections such as flu virus or mononucleosis can suffer longer.  Additionally, smoking, alcohol, and even poor nutrition can lead to a weakened immune system and longer recovery time.

Individuals with immune systems that are impaired for any of these reasons may be more susceptible to Norovirus illness after coming in contact with the virus. They may also find that the symptoms of Norovirus last longer for them than the generally expected one to three day window.

It is important to note that Norovirus can be transmitted from one individual to another, through direct or indirect contact, both before and after the infected individual experiences the symptoms of Norovirus. According to the CDC, Norovirus can be found in the stool of an infected individual even before he or she feels sick, and can continue to be found there as much as two weeks after he or she has recovered from the symptoms of the illness.

This means that individuals who feel completely healthy are fully capable of spreading this extremely contagious disease, and this makes places where large numbers of people gather particularly dangerous. Children who attend school are much more likely to contract Norovirus because of the large numbers of individuals between whom the virus can be spread. In addition, nursing homes and resorts have the same effect. Areas with high population density, where many people live in close proximity to one another, are also at a greater than usual risk of contracting Norovirus.

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