by Kimberly Allen, RN
As if it isn’t bad enough that this has been one of the worst flu seasons we’ve seen in several years, there’s also a new strain of norovirus that’s running rampant across the country. So now people are asking do I have the flu or the norovirus? Though the new strain of norovirus is not considered to be particularly deadly, it is highly contagious. With approximately 21 million infections reported every year, it usually kills approximately 800 people per year. The CDC reports that the new strain of norovirus has been responsible for at least 140 local epidemics from September through November, the they increased by 30% in December and it’s still going strong. Most experts believe that both the flu and norovirus will peak in February. However, they also state that there will continue to be cases of both at least through March possible even April.
The norovirus is actually considered more contagious than the flu. The two main reasons for that are that it takes much less exposure to the norovirus to become infected and ill than it does the flu. Also, the norovirus can survive on surfaces for much longer than the flu virus, 12 days as opposed to 8-10 hours to be more specific.
So how do you know if you have the flu or the norovirus? Basically the flu virus affects the upper respiratory system and the norovirus affects the gastrointestinal system. Both infections will make you feel miserable however, if you have the flu you’ll experience a runny nose, sore throat and body aches, fever, and chills. Where as if you have the norovirus you’re going to experience vomiting and I mean prolific vomiting along with nausea and diarrhea. However, experts have said there has been some symptoms overlap between the flu and norovirus this year because the H3N2 flu strain that’s going around is particularly nasty and producing more severe symptoms than usual. One of the most common complications of both is dehydration. Also, the affects of the flu usually last around a week, the affects of the norovirus only last 24-48 hours, though it may be the most miserable 24-48 hours you’ve experienced in a while.
Another question being asked is can you become infected with both viruses at the same time. Though both are considered infectious diseases and highly contagious it’s unusual to have more than one infection at a time. However, it is very possible to have one infection right after the other. When you have an infection your immune system works to get rid of it which tends to leave it tired and weakened by the time the infection is cleared. This leaves you vulnerable to another infection in the days immediately following the first infection, especially if exposed to a highly contagious antigen. It takes time to rebuild your immune system after an of your immune system before the first infection.
While there is a flu vaccine there is no vaccine yet available for the norovirus though there are clinical trials for a new vaccine currently taking place. Both infections are viruses so there is no “cure” and antibiotics won’t help. the best treatment for both infections is to get lots of rest, drink lots of fluids , especially clear liquids, as it’s important to avoid becoming dehydrated. The best liquids to drink are sport drinks or pedialyte to maintain your electrolyte balance. You can use over the counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce any fever and relieve aches and pains.
The best way to prevent both of these infections is vigorous hand washing. It’s best to use soap and warm water, only use the hand sanitizers when soap and water are unavailable. It’s also important to maintain a healthy immune system and the best way to do that is to eat a healthy, low fat diet and regular exercise.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.