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Norovirus outbreak in Kerala: All you need to know about its symptoms, treatment and prevention

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Norovirus is an infectious disease that spreads through contaminated water and food, with infected individuals shedding thousands of microscopic viral particles that can infect others.

Norovirus outbreak in Kerala: All you need to know about its symptoms, treatment and prevention
Kerala has recently confirmed that the highly infectious norovirus was detected in the southern State. The outbreak was detected in 13 veterinary students in the Wayanad district. Kerala’s Health Minister Veena George emphasised the need to be vigilant as the ministry issued several guidelines for people to adhere to.
"Currently there is no cause for concern but everyone should be vigilant. Activities including super chlorination are underway. Drinking water sources need to be ensured to be hygienic," George said.
With proper prevention and treatment, the disease can be cured quickly. Therefore, everyone should be aware of the disease and its means of prevention, she added.
 What is the norovirus and why we should be concerned?
Norovirus is an extremely contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhoea and can spread across people of all ages. Sometimes called the "winter vomiting bug" or stomach flu or stomach bug, it is not related to other viruses that cause the flu.
The virus has a short incubation period of just 24-48 hours, after which patients begin to experience stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. While most patients recover completely without any medical treatment within 1-3 days, some need urgent medical care to treat the resulting dehydration. These groups include the elderly, infants and people with pre-existing medical conditions and comorbidities.
How does it spread?
The virus spreads through tiny particles that are present in the faeces and vomit of infected individuals. The microscopic viral particles can contaminate food, water, and surfaces and spread to other individuals. Norovirus spreads easily because only a tiny amount of particles is needed to infect an individual.
The disease is animal-borne and first spreads through humans through water or food that has been contaminated by the excreta of animals. This can be through contact or other vectors like houseflies and cockroaches. In Wayanad, it is assumed that the students were first infected through an infected animal.
According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an infected individual may shed billions of viral particles over the course of their illness. Even though the illness only lasts a few days, individuals can still spread viral particles for weeks afterwards.
The virus usually spreads in close confines like hospitals, nursing homes, child-care centres, schools and cruise ships; places where it is easier for infected individuals to cross-contaminate water and food. Much like other viral diseases, some individuals may be infected by the virus but do not show any signs or symptoms of illness. These asymptomatic individuals can still infect others, and are often the leading cause of the viral outbreak.
Symptoms
Diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain are common symptoms of the disease while fever, body ache and headaches are also seen sometimes.
Due to the loss of fluids, some patients may quickly become dehydrated. Some common symptoms of dehydration are feeling thirsty, dark yellow and strong-smelling pee, feeling dizzy or lightheadedness, feeling tired, having a dry mouth, lips and eyes, peeing fewer than four times a day and in a small volume. If a patient is suspected of being dehydrated then adequate fluid intake over a long period of time must be ensured along with a steady supply of electrolytes.
Severe symptoms of dehydration include urinating small amounts of dark-coloured urine, or not urinating, severe diarrhoea or vomiting, and muscle cramps. In such cases, immediate medical assistance should be sought as severe and even moderate dehydration can lead to seizures, permanent brain damage, and even death.
Treatment  
There is no specific medicine to treat norovirus infection. However, patients should increase their fluid intake in the form of soups, juices, oral rehydration solutions, electrolytes and water to stave off dehydration. Most patients are able to recover within 72 hours from the onset of their symptoms, but patients must be careful to not spread the disease to other individuals since they can still shed viral particles after they have recovered.
Prevention
Proper hygiene is essential to prevent an infection. Washing your hands with soap before eating or handling food, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and maintaining proper hygiene when sick can stop the spread of the disease. Ensuring that infected individuals stay apart from individuals who are at risk of falling severely sick is also advised.
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