Norwalk Viral Infection (Viral Gastroenteritis)

Norwalk viral gastroenteritis is an infection of the gastrointestinal system, caused by the Norwalk virus. It is usually seen in summer months and is associated with outbreaks in schools, cruise ships, church picnics, etc. The illness is characterized by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It usually resolves by itself in a few days.

Where does it occur?

It occurs worldwide.

How is it transmitted?

It is most commonly transmitted by ingesting contaminated food and water or direct person to person contact. It can also be spread by contact with contaminated surfaces or inhaling gastric secretions.

Is it contagious from person to person?

It is contagious from person to person through contact with fecal material on hands and clothing of infected individuals and subsequent ingestion by others.

What is the risk for travelers?

Some risk exists for travelers staying in close quarters like camps, resorts, cruise ships, long term care facilities etc. Higher risk exists if ingesting cold food dishes, raw shellfish or oysters.

How soon after exposure will I develop symptoms?

Symptoms usually develop within 1-2 days of exposure.

What are the signs and symptoms?

The symptoms can be gradual or sudden and start with abdominal cramps and nausea. This is followed by vomiting and diarrhea combined or alone. There is usually low grade fever, body aches and muscle pains associated with the illness as well. The symptoms last 2-3 days and resolve without specific treatment.

Is there any treatment?

Treatment is supportive with plenty of fluid and rest.

Are there any lab tests to diagnose illness?

The virus may be identified in stool samples by PCR tests.

What preventive measures can be taken?

Avoid eating raw shellfish and practice strict hand washing when traveling in group settings.

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