Coping with the Norovirus: the Winter Tummy Bug

 In External Publications

Being struck down with viral gastroenteritis during the onset of winter is a nasty and messy business as we all know. One of this tummy bug’s most common causes is the norovirus, which seems to rear its ugly head more often in winter. Studies to determine why this is the case suggest a lowered immune system in individuals in winter as well as the virus’s ability to thrive in lower temperatures.

These are hypotheses, though, explains Cape Town-based GP and integrative medical practitioner at Renascent Health in Pinelands, Dr Leila Sadien. “The virus is very contagious, and given that people tend to be indoors more often in winter, the likelihood of it spreading is higher,” she says.

How does the norovirus spread?

You can catch the norovirus through direct contact with an infected person. “The virus can spread through the air from vomit, as well as the faecal-oral route,” Dr Leila explains. Here, pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms like viruses and bacteria) in faecal matter passed from one person are introduced into the oral cavity of another person and ingested.

For instance, if an infected person doesn’t wash their hands properly after using the toilet, microscopic particles of faecal matter may end up on frequently used surfaces others touch; they may then put their hands on their mouths. From there, “The route to the next victim can be a long and windy road, however, so during an outbreak, the virus can be found in food, water and the air,” Dr Leila adds.

The symptoms of the norovirus, and its treatment

Symptoms associated with the norovirus include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach pain, but as is the case with most viral infections, fever, body aches and general malaise may also be present.

Symptomatic relief for nausea and diarrhoea early on with over-the-counter medication is key, but treatment should also include rehydration for replacement of lost electrolytes.

Supporting the immune system is vital, adds Dr Leila, and suggests vitamin C and Echinacea to assist with recovery. Speak to your Clicks pharmacist about rehydration products and the recommended doses for adults, children and infants, supplementary products, as well as over-the-counter meds.

If symptoms persist for five days or more, visit your medical practitioner to rule out any underlying conditions not associated with the norovirus.

Complications of the norovirus

Symptoms may last between one and three days in both adults and children, but care should be taken as dehydration can be a very real health threat. “If you’re unable to keep down medication, nutrition or fluid replacement, it’s wise to seek medical attention,” Dr Leila advises.

In some cases, intravenous fluid replacement may be necessary. In children, warning signs of dehydration include “dry and/or sunken eyes, dry mouth, lowered consciousness and laboured breathing,” she says. Also, uncontrolled fever in children may result in febrile seizure (convulsion). Medical care must be sought if these occur frequently in a short space of time.

How to prevent becoming infected with the norovirus

Reduce your risk of picking up the norovirus with the following:

  • Frequent hand-washing and sanitising of regularly-used surfaces
  • Avoiding places where people are already ill
  • Keeping children at home during school outbreaks and/or when they’re ill, and for a day or two after they’ve recovered
  • During outbreaks, be mindful of what you eat and of touching your face and mouth.

In conclusion, Dr Leila advises: “Maintaining a strong immune system with good nutrition, supplement support and possibly immune boosters during winter is invaluable in preventing any communicable illness.”

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