Norovirus Sticks Around Longer Than You Think

Winter is full of great things: Holiday music, lots of baked goods, and spending time with loved ones. It's also, unfortunately, when people tend to get super sick, often with the stomach disaster known as the norovirus. You might be wondering: How long does the norovirus last? And for that matter, how long do you display symptoms of the illness? And how long the norovirus is contagious is especially important if you're worried about passing it on to friends, family, or coworkers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus is likely to peak between late January and March (so, right now, basically). While the norovirus is separate from influenza, the two are often grouped together because they share similar symptoms and both hit during the winter months.

What is particularly tricky — and dangerous— about the spread of norovirus is that one person can easily spread it to a lot of people at once. And once you have it, things move quickly. For example, people exposed to the virus often display symptoms within 24 to 48 hours, though they can start as soon as within 12 hours. Most often, the virus is spread through close personal contact with an infected person, or through fecal-oral transference, which is when a person consumes contaminated food or water.

Also: You are contagious the moment you contract the norovirus, and are typically contagious for three days after you feel better and fully "recovered." It's vicious.

This is especially concerning when you consider that many Americans have limited sick time, if they have any at all. (There are currently no federal legal requirements for sick leave in the United States.) This means that people may be returning to work before they're fully recovered and thus spreading the virus to coworkers, customers, people next to them on the bus, and so on.

So, what are the most common symptoms of norovirus? Most people call the norovirus a "stomach bug," which makes sense. The most common symptoms include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.

Norovirus can also survive on hard surfaces for days, which is why tables, dishes, cutting boards, other places in your kitchen on are ripe for transferring the virus. Even worse, the standard cleaning products are not always enough to clear it out completely. Instead, using a mixture of hot water and bleach is your best bet.

While the norovirus doesn't get as much attention as the flu, it's important to keep in mind that this isn't just a few days of vomiting and fatigue. It can be debilitating, especially for particularly vulnerable people like children, the elderly, and people compromised immune systems. Basically, even if you're someone who "never gets sick," it's still important to take reasonable precautions to protect not only yourself, but those around you.

What are some simple things you should do to protect yourself from the norovirus? As of right now, there are no vaccines available. Focus on washing your hands and keeping your areas clean. For example, if you feel any symptoms coming on, washing your bedding and clothing with hot water and bleach is a good idea, as is washing down your kitchen, bathroom, keyboard, and so forth.

And remember to stay hydrated! The norovirus is no joke.