Is it a cold, flu or norovirus? Symptoms explained

The highly contagious norovirus It is spreading across Canada and some symptoms overlap with other viruses.

The number of reported norovirus cases is higher this year compared to the country’s five-year historical average, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

CTVNews.ca spoke with a health expert to find out how to tell if you have norovirus, the most common form of stomach flu, and what to do if you do.

What is norovirus?


NorovirusAlso known as the “Norwalk virus,” it was named after the first outbreak that occurred in Norwalk, Ohio.

It spreads easily and quickly, according to PHAC. Just a few virus particles in an infected person’s feces or vomit can make them sick. For example, you can get it by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your mouth before washing your hands, or by eating contaminated food and drinks.

Symptoms: how to tell if it’s norovirus or something else

Dr. April Kam, acting chief of the division of pediatric emergency medicine at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ont., said norovirus has symptoms that can overlap with those of other viruses.

Since norovirus is a gastrointestinal viruspeople tend to have nausea, diarrhea and stomach pain, Kam said in a video interview with CTVNews.ca.

The other main symptoms of norovirus are cramps and vomiting. Vomiting is more common in children than adults, according to PHAC.

Less common signs that you may have norovirus may include mild fever, chills, headache, body and muscle aches, and fatigue.

“There’s also an overlap with the flu, where you have… many days of fever, muscle pain, headache, all of that,” he said.

It can be difficult to know if you have norovirus or influenza, but you are less likely to confuse a cold with norovirus.

If you have a rhinovirus infection, which normally causes the common cold, you tend to have a stuffy nose, cough or fever, Kam said.

Health experts like Kam recommend people who think they have norovirus stay home and avoid contact with other people until at least two days after they no longer have symptoms.

What to do if you or your child has norovirus

Kam said it’s not as important to know if you have norovirus as it is to monitor your symptoms.

He said the key is to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, including water and other fluids with electrolytes or diluted juices. For example, Pedialyte, Gatorade and Powerade are some types of fluids that can help prevent dehydration by restoring important salts and minerals you may be losing due to vomiting and diarrhea, he said.

“This is the time where you can let the kids have popsicles, ice cream and things like that if that’s all they want, just to stay hydrated,” Kam said.

He doesn’t recommend drinks with a lot of sugar, such as soda, as sugar can exacerbate symptoms such as diarrhea, he said.

To stay comfortable, Kam said they can take pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, known by the brand names Advil and Tylenol, respectively.

Although there is no prescription medication to treat norovirus, most people begin to feel better within two to three days, according to PHAC.

Toddlers should be able to produce tears when they cry, their lips and tongue should still be moist and they should urinate normally, he said. If there are changes, it could indicate problems with hydration.

In certain cases, people should consult their family doctor, Kam said. “I feel like if you’re worried about your hydration, or if you’re worried about your child’s hydration or lethargy or disproportionate pain or anything like that, then you should see a doctor.”

Norovirus prevention

Simple things can be done to help protect you and your family from norovirus.

Washing your hands frequently with soap and water is the key advice Kam offered to those who fear becoming infected.

Food safety, such as ensuring vegetables are washed properly and sanitizing surfaces and toys, is also important, she added.


With files from CTV News Toronto’s Hannah Alberga

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