Norovirus Infection: A Cause for Travelers' Concern?

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Reported outbreaks of norovirus infection on a cruise ships has left many would-be travelers worried about contracting the illness and wondering if they can prevent it. Many people may not be familiar with the term norovirus, but it's actually a relatively new term for an old disease. The many strains of noroviruses cause a self-limited gastrointestinal illness that many refer to as the "stomach flu." Outbreaks of norovirus infection have also been documented as coming from restaurants, schools, and nursing homes.

Norovirus is now the official name for the group of viruses that, for a time, were referred to as "Norwalk-like" viruses, after the original strain "Norwalk virus," which caused an outbreak of gastroenteritis in a school in Norwalk, Ohio, in 1968. Other names for this group of viruses have included caliciviruses (the virus family name) and small round structured viruses (SRSVs).

After infection with one of the noroviruses, symptoms typically appear within one to two days. The sudden onset of nausea and vomiting, watery diarrhea, and abdominal cramping are the most common symptoms of norovirus infection. A low-grade fever may be present. The illness typically resolves on its own within 24 to 60 hours without serious long-term effects. However, dehydration is a potential complication, especially among children and the elderly, possibly requiring medical treatment.