Trying to stomach norovirus

December 4, 2020

Chipotle, although one of my personal favorite Mexican chains (anyone who says Moe’s is better is just flat out wrong), has definitely had its fair share of foodborne illness outbreaks. From E. coli to salmonella, Chipotle does not seem shy to rub germs into their food. One of the more prominent viruses responsible for these outbreaks is norovirus, who’s responsible for three separate cases since 2008.

Norovirus is highly contagious and can cause the sudden onset of severe diarrhea and vomiting. As you can guess, this is certainly not fun to have hanging out in your gut. Other symptoms include nausea, muscle pain and general weakness.

Since norovirus has signs and symptoms that are essentially indistinguishable from the stomach bug, it’s pretty hard to tell the two apart. Since it is highly contagious, if you’ve been in close contact with someone who was infected, then you can reasonably deduce that you probably got sick from them (feel free to call them up and yell at them for plaguing you).

The infection can also travel on surfaces, such as a counter or a table. So if someone that is infected sits down in your favorite chair, then you better dunk the chair in rubbing alcohol before coming within a 50-foot radius of it.

Although this infection is associated with some pretty debilitating symptoms, it normally doesn’t cause death. However, due to all of the diarrhea and vomit that’s spewing out of your body, you can get really dehydrated. Signs of dehydration are fatigue, dizziness and dry mouth.

It is a bit more difficult to tell if a child is dehydrated, since they are sometimes unable to tell you how they feel. To tell if a child is dehydrated, then they will generally have decreased urine output. Moreover, when they cry, they will not produce as many tears. 

Fortunately, it’s really easy to avoid dehydration in most cases by simply making sure that you are drinking enough water. I cannot stress this enough! In any case, if you are losing a lot of fluids to vomit or diarrhea then it is essential to replace them. Even if the last thing you want to think about is water, it is critical to at least try.

In most people, norovirus will clear up in a few days and is not life-threatening. In these people, their immune system is strong enough to push back the virus. However, in other people, their immune system can be so weak that the virus can be life-threatening and they must see the doctor. People that generally have weaker immune systems include children, the elderly and HIV patients. Once again, if you fall into one of these categories, then it is essential to contact a doctor immediately.

There is not much that you can do at home to treat the virus on its own, as your immune system will often fight it and the infection will resolve on its own within a few days. As noted earlier, one way to help your body in fighting the infection is by providing it with enough food and water. If symptoms last for longer than a week, then make an appointment with your doctor. You should also make an appointment with your doctor if your stool is bloody, you have abdominal pain or if you are severely dehydrated.

One thing that you can do, however, is prevent norovirus from ever entering your body in the first place. This is way easier said than done. However, practicing good hygiene and avoiding those who are infected are two easy ways to avoid getting many infections. 

Although norovirus is not a lethal infection for many people, it is important to keep in mind that it can cause severe complications if you do not properly mitigate your dehydration with proper restoration of fluids. Also, remember to see your doctor if you have a compromised immune system or if you encounter any of the complications above. I honestly just sincerely hope I haven’t ruined the fine dining experience of Chipotle for everyone! 

(Note: These articles are good-faith attempts to be helpful to the Brandeis community and are by no means to be taken as universal. This article does not replace the advice of a medical professional. This article is not written on behalf of the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (BEMCo) and is not affiliated with BEMCo in any manner.)

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