What’s Happening Inside Your Body When You Have Norovirus?

Norovirus, more commonly known as the winter sickness bug, due to the high number of reported complaints around winter time, is a highly contagious stomach bug. Symptoms of Norovirus typically include vomiting and diarrhea and in some cases flu like symptoms, such as headaches, stomach cramps, fever and muscle pain. Norovirus is one of many strains of a single virus called the Norwalk virus, hence the name. Norovirus can share it’s symptoms with non viral infections, like bacterial gastroenteritis, which is not contagious. If you suffer any of the symptoms above, it is always best to assume you have a contagious virus and act accordingly, until advised otherwise by a doctor.

How is Norovirus passed on?
Norovirus is the cause of viral gastroenteritis and affects humans of all ages, passed on by contaminated food, liquid, surfaces, objects or person to person contact. Norovirus is ingested, via the mouth, nose and in rare cases rubbing your eyes after coming in to contact with a contaminated source. While the effects of Norovirus are distressing and exhausting, it is not life threatening to a person with a healthy immune system. It is possible that a person could catch Norovirus and have no symptoms at all, while still being contagious.

What happens next?
After ingestion, Norovirus travels through your stomach to your small intestine. Here Norovirus begins to multiply by attaching itself to the healthy cells within your intestine, taking them over in order to produce more infected cells. A virus cannot multiply on its own, it needs living cells to feed from. Eventually the cells will explode and produce replica cells of the virus. Norovirus will then continue on to more healthy cells and repeat this process.
During this time you will begin to feel unwell, as your body’s immune system realizes something is wrong and starts to produce antibodies to fight the infected cells. Projectile vomiting and diarrhea may occur suddenly. These reactions are your body’s natural response to a virus, as your immune system strives to rid your body of infection by flushing out your system, as Norovirus is affecting your small intestine, not your stomach, this is a pointless side effect.

How long does Norovirus last?
Norovirus usually lasts for one to two days. You will continue to feel unwell and weak as your immune system uses energy to fight off the infection. Gradually your immune system will begin to take over the infected cells and deactivate them, you will begin to feel better but still highly contagious for another 12-48 hours. It is best to stay away from others during this time. Once you have fought off a particular strain of Norovirus, you cannot catch that form of the infection again, although there are many others.

Other effects on the body
Although Norovirus itself is not life threatening, a common side effect of Norovirus is dehydration. It is important to replace any lost fluids during the time of infection to prevent dehydration becoming worse, which can prove to be fatal in extreme cases. Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, tiredness, dry mouth, and passing dark coloured urine.

Norovirus is very unpleasant but most people make a full recovery in just a few days with no lasting side effects.

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