Norovirus – The Norovirus is an extremely contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. It can also cause acute gastroenteritis which is inflammation of the stomach lining and intestines (1). Norovirus is an autoimmune-related disease.
The Norovirus is a family of highly contagious Caliciviridae RNA viruses that cause extreme stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea. These viruses were once called Norwalk virus or Norwalk-like virus because of early outbreaks. There are many different strains of the Norovirus. Due to this, an individual is able to contract this virus at different points throughout their lifetime.
Stomach Bug or Stomach Flu are names commonly associated with the Norovirus.
Norovirus is easily transmissible through contaminated surfaces and prepared contaminated food. An individual may become infected by touching these contaminated surfaces, eating or drinking contaminated food and water, and from contact with an infected individual (2). Highly crowded areas are where the norovirus reigns supreme. This includes places like nursing homes, cruise ships and schools because of how quickly it can spread.
It only takes a few norovirus particles to make an individual sick. Once infected, symptoms may appear in as little as 12-48 hours. Having direct contact with an individual who has contracted the virus puts you at risk of contraction. The norovirus is the most common cause of food borne illness and outbreaks in the United States (1). Typically occurring from an infected (though recovering) individual who has touched prepared food or beverages.
Norovirus Symptoms (1,2)
- Stomach Pain and Cramps
- Body Aches
Prevention and Treatment of Norovirus (1,2)
There is no medicine to treat the norovirus. Once infected, it is key to try and intake plenty of liquids to prevent fluid loss and dehydration. Sometimes, a hospital visit may be necessary to receive liquid via IV. Taking in beverages with electrolytes and minerals may also help to prevent dehydration.
Proper hand hygiene is key to preventing norovirus. Be sure to wash your hands or use a alcohol based hand sanitizer before eating or drinking, preparing food, or giving yourself or others medication. Be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables before preparing or eating. Also thoroughly cook all food and shellfish (a common source of norovirus).
Note: Noroviruses are extremely resistant to heat and can survive high temperatures
After being touched by an infected individual, clean and disinfect surfaces. A diluted bleach solution or any disinfectant marked as effective against norovirus by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) will do the trick. You should also clean all clothing, sheets/blankets, and throw out all trash. Then, follow by washing your hands!
Norovirus Link to Autoimmunity
The norovirus is not an autoimmune disease. Many researchers and scientists look at it as a trigger for individuals with autoimmune disease, especially digestive autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. How the norovirus “hijacked” the gut was not understood until recently (3). The norovirus needs a specific protein to target cells. This protein is specific to cells that line the intestines, called tuft cells. Hence why this virus causes potentially extreme vomiting and diarrhea due to their location.
The tuft cells are an important key to allowing norovirus into the body. They have been linked to an immune response in previous research. When tuft cells notice intruders (the norovirus) they produce a chemical signal (immune response) and begin to multiply. But, more tuft cells means there is more of a chance for the norovirus to find a home and that specific protein, and therefore, more of an immune response (3).
A study in mice found that the rodents who had genes likely to cause inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) showed symptoms of that disease after becoming infected with the norovirus.
Research suggests many different autoimmune disease triggers may be linked to viruses or other infections (4). Majority of the time there are genetic factors that come into play along with an environmental trigger. When an individual becomes infected with a virus or bacterial it causes an immune response. The antibodies produced from that response may also attack normal healthy cells in addition to the infected cells. This can therefore damage the immune system and trigger autoimmune disease (4). There is still not definitive linkages to viruses and autoimmune diseases.
A Personal Story
Back in 2010, I contracted the norovirus along with half of my college soccer team during a tournament in Florida. Because of our close contact, the virus easily spread among us. After “recovering” from the virus, I never truly got better like the rest of my teammates. I began to have other digestive symptoms which included 10-30+ bowel movements per day, extreme stomach pain, cramping, and bloating, and blood in my stool. These symptoms were relentless.
I finally gave in and went to the hospital after months of suffering. I was only considered for a colonoscopy after letting the doctor know that IBD ran in my family. The results of that colonoscopy were Ulcerative Colitis which sadly, was a relief. I now had a reason for the way I felt and we could now fix the problem. Years and a diagnosis change later (I actually have Crohn’s Disease, which is a story for another day), every single doctor I have had suggests that the norovirus triggered the immune response which woke up my IBD. Clearly IBD is in my genetic makeup, but the norovirus is what made it express itself.
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ABOUT | Kelsey is a wife, proud dog mom, and chemist living with Crohn’s Disease since 2011. She is passionate about research, learning how to heal IBD, encouraging others to be their own advocate, and sharing insight, tips, and tricks to survive and thrive with IBD on her blog.
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