When it comes down to it, we spend a lot of our time in the bathroom. The average person may take anywhere from four to 10 trips to the toilet each day, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But if your bathroom excursions suddenly take on new urgency, you may want to seek medical guidance. Officials are now warning that cases of one troublesome virus have been steadily increasing in the U.S. over the past few months—and you’ll want to give your doctor a call if you think you’ve come down with it. Read on to find out which symptoms you should watch out for when you go to the bathroom.
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If you’re running to the bathroom with sudden vomiting and diarrhea, you could be dealing with a norovirus infection—otherwise known as the stomach flu or stomach bug. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with this infection typically experience severe diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain that starts abruptly within 12 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus. You might also experience other symptoms such as nausea, fever, headache, and body aches, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Norovirus causes inflammation of the stomach or intestines. This is called acute gastroenteritis,” the CDC explains. “If you have norovirus illness, you can feel extremely ill, and vomit or have diarrhea many times a day.”
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Norovirus outbreaks are increasing in the U.S. In a typical year, there are about 2,500 reported outbreaks occurring per year in the country, according to the CDC. But in just the first few months of this year, infections have risen significantly.
Between January and March 2022, data from the CDC showed that the number of weekly norovirus outbreaks rose from below 10 to more than 50. And from Aug. 2021 to March 2022, the agency said that there were 448 reported norovirus outbreaks compared to just 78 this same time last year. A CDC spokesperson noted that the smaller rate then was likely skewed, telling NBC-affiliate KING 5 that norovirus levels had been “lower than normal” during the COVID pandemic.
But the removal of COVID protection measures and restrictions could be to blame for the rising cases now, which might not bode well for outbreak rates in the coming months. Paul Auwaerter, MD, professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and clinical director of the infectious diseases division, told the news outlet that the recent increase in norovirus infections could be related to people interacting more with others as COVID cases decline.
Getting infected with this stomach flu is rather easy, unfortunately. Norovirus is a very contagious virus that can infect people of all ages, according to the CDC. The agency explains that those already infected with can shed billions of norovirus particles, and only a few of these particles are needed to make someone else sick.
There are a number of different ways you could get norovirus. This includes eating or drinking liquids that have been contaminated with the virus, touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then putting your fingers in your mouth, or just having any direct contact with someone who is infected, according to the CDC.
“You are most contagious when you have symptoms of norovirus illness, especially vomiting, and during the first few days after you recover from norovirus illness,” the agency warns. “However, studies have shown that you can still spread norovirus for two weeks or more after you feel better.”
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If you are vomiting and have severe diarrhea, getting told you will need to just ride out your sickness is probably the last thing you want to hear. But according to the CDC, there is actually “no specific medicine to treat people with norovirus illness,” so most people do recover at home by themselves.
A doctor won’t be able to prescribe you antibiotics to treat your stomach bug because as a virus, it doesn’t respond to this kind of treatment, Verywell Health explains. But you should still call your doctor if you’re experiencing norovirus symptoms to get advice on how to avoid dehydration. Repeated vomiting and diarrhea will cause you to lose fluids, which can result in dehydration. “Dehydration can lead to serious problems,” the CDC warns. “Severe dehydration may require hospitalization for treatment with fluids given through your vein.”
For dehydration, your doctor will likely advise you to drink plenty of liquids replace fluids and they can also recommend over-the-counter (OTC) oral rehydration fluids. But your doctor can also help you more accurately determine if the likely cause of your symptoms is norovirus, according to the Mayo Clinic.
While there is no real treatment for the norovirus, certain issues should prompt you to seek medical care. According to Verywell Health, you should check in with a healthcare provider if your symptoms have not gone away within a few days, you have bloody diarrhea, you develop signs of moderate to severe dehydration such as dizziness, light-headedness, weakness, fatigue, or lack or urine.
“People over age 85 and under age 5 are more likely to need medical care that can’t be provided at home. If your baby or child has norovirus, contact your provider if they are vomiting, having frequent diarrhea, or show signs of dehydration,” the experts at Verywell Health recommend. While most stomach flu cases resolve on their own, the CDC reports that the norovirus does typically cause around 109,000 hospitalizations and about 900 deaths each year in the U.S., mostly among adults 65 and older.
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