The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that noroviruses cause nearly 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis annually, making noroviruses the leading cause of gastroenteritis in adults in the United States.
Norovirus causes nearly 60% of all foodborne illness outbreaks. Norovirus is transmitted primarily through the fecal-oral route, with fewer than 100 norovirus particles needed to cause infection. Transmission occurs either person-to-person or through contamination of food or water. Norovirus illness usually develops 24 to 48 hours after ingestion of contaminated food or water. Symptoms typically last a relatively short amount of time, approximately 24 to 48 hours. These symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Headache and low-grade fever may also accompany this illness. People infected with norovirus usually recover in two to three days without serious or long-term health effects. Recent studies point to Norovirus as being a possible cause of Crohn’s disease in individuals with certain gene mutations.
Humans are the only host of norovirus, and norovirus has several mechanisms that allow it to spread quickly and easily. Norovirus infects humans in a pathway like the influenza virus’ mode of infection. Norovirus can survive a wide range of temperatures and in many different environments. Moreover, the viruses can spread quickly, especially in places where people are in proximity, such as cruise ships, restaurant, and airline flights. Norovirus has a higher prevalence during winter months when people are most likely indoors – thus, the term “winter-vomiting bug.”