My six-year-old woke Tuesday morning with a low-grade fever and a stomach ache. I turned on the bedside lamp and let him crawl in bed with me. As I lay facing him on my side I soon noticed he began swallowing repeatedly. He opened his eyes wide and looked at me. I knew what that meant: I scooped him up and ran with him to the bathroom where he barfed, mostly making it into the toilet.
Around 9:30 my tummy started rumbling and I went to lay down with him. Things went quickly south for me from there as I joined him in his misery.
As I sit here now, a full 36 hours later, my stomach is still grumbling regularly, though it has calmed significantly in comparison to the hours I spent yesterday and overnight visiting the bathroom and then collapsing in bed in a sweaty heap between visits.
By Tuesday afternoon he was handling things much better, though my insides took a lot longer to return to some sort of stasis. By Wednesday morning, when I was feeling marginally able to face the world, I checked in with my friend who we’d had dinner with Monday night to find that she was in the same boat. This friend works at a preschool in Beaverton and had a theory: norovirus.
So I decided to do some research as I recovered this afternoon into what I could blame on putting me in my own personal hell. What I found is that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) identifies norovisrises as “a group of related viruses” that cause gastroenteritis, the most common symptoms of which are diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, headache, fever, and chills. Bingo.
Noroviruses are highly contagious buggers, and often hang out in close quarters, including cruise ships, old folks homes, schools, and daycare centers, according to the CDC.
You probably remember the recent E. coli outbreak traced back to Chipotle restaurants in the Pacific Northwest. E. coli is one of the bacteria that cause gastroenteritis—also known as the stomach flu, though it's not a strain of flu at all—according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Other bacteria responsible for the thousands of cases of foodborne illness each year include Staphylococcus, Salmonella, and Camplobacter jejuni, which sounds fun.
Though I questioned whether or not I was going to die several times during the worst part of our infection, my son and I got off pretty easy. According to the CDC, norovirus hospitalizes as many as 71,000 people in the US each year and is responsible for between 570 and 800 deaths, though most people recover just fine without hospitalization.
There’s no cure for norovirus if it attacks, aside from trying to stay hydrated and getting rest, which is about all I was able to do. It can be more dangerous for young children, the elderly, and people with otherwise compromised immune systems, according to NIH information. And it comes on quick; we started feeling symptoms less than 12 hours after eating what I think was the culprit. But, really, without going to the doctor and getting a test (I didn’t chose to do so), my guess about where the sudden onset came from is just that: a guess.
Now, as I’m regaining some normalcy, I’m writing this blog to remind people that the wet winter weather makes most people more susceptible to illness, foodborne and otherwise. The CDC recommends frequent hand washing to combat possible norovirus infection. After living through the torture of a (likely) norovirus infection, I just want to warn everyone out there to do what you can to avoid what we went through. Good luck!