Is Norovirus Contagious?

Like a movie sequel nobody wanted, the norovirus is back, and this winter season, the nasty stomach bug is powerful as ever. Norovirus is no joke; millions of people come down this winter malady each year, leaving them bedridden or even hospitalized for days. So, is norovirus contagious? The unfortunate answer is, sadly, yes. Norovirus, otherwise known as the stomach flu, is highly contagious; sometimes I think there isn't enough hand sanitizer in the world to protect us from it. The virus, which causes inflammation of the stomach, intestines, or both, can manifest in some pretty gnarly symptoms. Nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fever, cramps and stomach pain are all unmistakable calling cards of the norovirus.

Many of us have already had the misfortune of experienced the virus first hand. You can get sick with norovirus at any point (yippee!), but it is far more common in the winter. The strain has the ability to mutate, which means you can continue to catch different versions of the stomach bug year after year; what's more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are between 19 and 21 million reported cases of norovirus each year. While it is not as deadly as its seasonal cousin, influenza, the stubborn virus spreads easily and can be hard to kill.

Unfortunately, we can't lock ourselves in a hermetically sealed room until the snow melts, so understanding how the disease spreads is key for prevention. As the CDC explains, norovirus can be transmitted through a variety of channels; among them are coming into contact with an infected person, eating contaminated food, or touching a surface or object that has been contaminated by norovirus and then touching your mouth.

People are at their most contagious both while they are sick with norovirus and during their first few days of recovery. You heard me: Just because the symptoms have gone away doesn't mean that the virus is gone, too. Norovirus can be found in feces, and can stay there for more than two weeks after symptoms have abated — which is one of the reasons that outbreaks of the virus are common in places such as nursing homes, schools, daycare centers, and cruise ships.

If someone contaminated with norovirus forgets to wash their hands properly, they can continue to spread the disease. The virus is resistant to alcohol-based hand sanitizers and many cleaning products. Soap and water can wash the virus away, but it takes very hot water and bleach to kill it.

Eating food that has been contaminated with norovirus can lead to infection as well. While raw foods such as shellfish, leafy greens and fresh fruits have all been linked to outbreaks, cooked foods can be contaminated during handling. The norovirus can also live on dry surfaces at room temperature for days, so holding contaminated objects or surfaces (such as doorhandles) can also be to blame for a case of the stomach bug.

While reports of norovirus have started to flood in, luckily, this season is predicted to be pretty average as far as outbreaks go. Now we just have to make it til spring!