Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that causes more than half of all foodborne illnesses in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (1) It’s also the leading cause in the United States of a type of stomach illness called acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines), which causes vomiting and diarrhea. (1)

Norovirus can spread from person to person through contaminated food or water, or when a person touches a contaminated surface and transfers the virus to their mouth.

While norovirus is commonly known as stomach flu, it is not, in fact, related to the seasonal flu, which is caused by the influenza virus, and it is not related to the virus that causes COVID-19. Other names for norovirus include “food poisoning” and a “stomach bug,” notes the CDC. (2)

Causes and Risk Factors of Norovirus

Norovirus is found in the feces and vomit of people who’ve been infected in the virus. People get norovirus by accidentally ingesting tiny amounts of these feces or vomit, which can be found on unwashed food, in contaminated water, or on a contaminated surface.

People with the infection can release billions of norovirus particles; it only takes a small amount of those particles to make someone sick, according to the CDC. (4)

In particular, norovirus can be transmitted by:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus (for example, food that’s grown in contaminated water)
  • Touching an object or surface that’s been contaminated with norovirus, then touching your mouth
  • Having direct contact — such as sharing food or utensils — with a person who has norovirus
  • Drinking contaminated water from a well or from a pool that isn’t properly cleaned

More than half of all norovirus outbreaks in the United States occur in long-term care facilities, notes the CDC. (5) Outbreaks also occur in hospitals, restaurants, and at catered events. About 1 percent of all reported norovirus outbreaks occur on cruise ships. (5)

Duration of Norovirus

Norovirus usually lasts from one to three days.

Although the symptoms usually only last for a few days, people are contagious for much longer. Some people can keep shedding the virus in their feces for weeks — or even months, if you have underlying conditions — after recovering from the infection. (2)

Because there are many different types of norovirus, you can get sick from it many times. Some people might develop an immunity to some types of norovirus, but it’s not clear how long their immunity lasts.

A person’s susceptibility to norovirus is partly determined by their genetics, notes the CDC. (6)

Treatment and Medication Options for Norovirus

There’s no specific treatment for a norovirus infection. If you have an infection, the best course of action is to rest and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

Sports drinks or other fluids that don’t have caffeine or alcohol in them may help with mild dehydration, but your best bet is to buy over-the-counter oral rehydration fluids.

If you aren’t able to drink enough liquid, or are more severely dehydrated, you may need to be given fluids intravenously, in a hospital.

Medication Options

There are no specific medicines that treat norovirus.

Antibiotics don’t work against norovirus because they only fight bacteria, not viruses.

There is currently no vaccine available for norovirus, according to the CDC. (7)

Alternative and Complementary Therapies

If you’re struggling to keep food down, you might try eating bland foods, including: (2)

  • Soup
  • Bananas
  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Crackers

Prevention of Norovirus

Norovirus is highly contagious, so it’s important to prevent the spread of the infection by following good hygiene practices. Some steps to take include:

  • Washing your hands with soap and water, especially after going to the bathroom or changing diapers (Hand sanitizer isn’t a substitute for hand washing, since alcohol is not as effective a shield against norovirus particles, according to UC Health Today.) (8)
  • Washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them
  • Cooking seafood (such as oysters or other shellfish) thoroughly
  • Cleaning and disinfecting contaminated surfaces (with a bleach-based household cleaner)
  • Washing laundry thoroughly and handling soiled items (such as from vomit) with rubber or disposable gloves
  • Refraining from preparing food for others if you’re sick

Research and Statistics: How Many People Have Norovirus

Norovirus is responsible for 58 percent of all foodborne illnesses in the United States. There are approximately 2,500 norovirus outbreaks each year, most of them occurring from November to April. (1)

According to the CDC, each year in the United States, norovirus causes an average of: (1)

  • 19 to 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis
  • 2,270,000 outpatient visits (these are mostly young children)
  • 465,000 emergency room visits (mostly young children)
  • 109,000 hospitalizations
  • 900 deaths

Related Conditions and Causes of Norovirus

Norovirus is the most common cause of foodborne illness in the United States, but it’s not the only cause. The other most common causes include:

  • Salmonella
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Campylobacter
  • Staphylococcus aureus

Resources We Love

Favorite Organizations for Essential Information

For more information about norovirus, visit the following websites:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Learn more about norovirus and other leading causes of foodborne illnesses — including how to prevent infection — at the CDC’s website.

National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID)

The NFID is a nonprofit organization that’s committed to educating the public about infectious diseases.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking


  1. Burden of Norovirus Illness in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. October 8, 2020.
  2. Norovirus Symptoms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. November 25, 2019.
  3. Norovirus Infection. Mayo Clinic. February 5, 2020.
  4. Norovirus Transmission. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. November 25, 2019.
  5. Norovirus Common Settings of Norovirus Outbreaks. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. October 8, 2020.
  6. About Norovirus. Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention. June 1, 2018.
  7. Norovirus Treatment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. November 25, 2019.
  8. McCrimmon KK. Protect Yourself From Extremely Contagious Norovirus. UCHealth Today. November 25, 2019.
  9. Grytdal S, Browne H, Collins N, et al. Trends in Incidence of Norovirus-Associated Acute Gastroenteritis in 4 Veterans Affairs Medical Center Populations in the United States, 2011-2015. Clinical Infectious Diseases. January 2020.


  • Norovirus. National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
  • Norovirus Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. November 25, 2019.


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