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Health & Wellness

Everything You Need to Know to Keep Norovirus at Bay

Nasty stomach bug hits universities across the country, BU safe so far


David McBride, medical director of Student Health Services, warns students to wash their hands frequently.

At Georgetown University and the University of Southern California, students are reeling from a painful gastrointestinal virus called norovirus. So far at least, Boston University and other schools in the Northeast have avoided infection, and University officials are hoping to keep it that way. David McBride, director of BU’s Student Health Services, says the best way to keep the virus from spreading is to wash hands carefully and often, preferably with an alcohol-based sanitizer. What else can you do? BU Today spoke with McBride about ways to minimize the risk of getting sick, and what to do if you do get sick.

BU Today: What causes the norovirus and how do people become infected?
People shed it in their stool, and when people don’t wash their hands adequately they can transfer it to someone else. It can also get onto surfaces or into food.

What are the symptoms?
Vomiting and diarrhea. There can also be flu-like symptoms, such as headache, fever, body aches, things like that.

How long does it take for symptoms to appear after you have contracted the virus?
The incubation period is between 24 and 48 hours.

How serious is the virus? Are there any long-term effects?
Norovirus does make people fairly sick. It can cause dehydration to some degree, although usually it’s the kind of thing that passes within 24 to 48 hours. There are no long-term effects.

What can be done to prevent it?
Hand washing is the only thing that can prevent it — careful hygiene is very, very important.

What treatment, if any, is available?
We don’t recommend seeking care when you’ve contracted the virus unless you’re sick to the point where you can’t keep fluids down. The reason for that is mostly that if you go out when you have it, you can spread it, so you’re better off “holing up” with a large amount of fluids and trying to rest until it passes.

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Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

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