Why A Rise In Norovirus Cases Is Being Seen Throughout The US

As a highly-contagious virus, norovirus (or stomach flu) can affect children and adults alike, causing symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, stomach aches, and more, reports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because norovirus can come in many forms, it is possible to be reinfected throughout one's lifetime.

Tracking data from the CDC reveals that the U.S. is currently seeing higher rates of norovirus infection compared to the season prior. From August 1, 2022, to January 8, 2023, a reported 225 outbreaks were detected, as reported by health departments across 14 states. In comparison, 53 fewer outbreaks were reported throughout the same five-month span during the previous season, for a total of 172 outbreaks.

In light of the recent data, experts are now weighing in as to what may be driving the jump in infection numbers from last season to the current season as well as whether we should be concerned.

What does the rise in norovirus cases mean?

Experts say these numbers are not a cause for concern. Rather, the CDC states that these rates fall within the standard range of norovirus outbreaks seen annually between 2012 to 2020.

"At this time, I don't think we're seeing anything unexpected or unusual," Sara Mirza, an epidemiologist in the CDC's division of viral diseases, told TIME. "We're right on track for a typical [norovirus] season." Experts cite the relaxation of pandemic safety measures over the last year as the reason for the increase in case numbers. With much of the public having dropped behaviors such as masking and social distancing that helped curb the spread of illness, health officials say that we're seeing numbers returning to those observed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even so, there are steps individuals can take to help reduce their risk of infection this season. The CDC emphasizes the importance of practicing regular hand hygiene, particularly when handling food, administering medicine, or using the bathroom. Opt for warm water and soap over hand sanitizer, as the latter isn't as effective against norovirus. In addition to person-to-person contact, the virus can also be spread through contaminated food items. Therefore, be sure to thoroughly wash any produce and to cook shellfish to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. In the event that clothes or surfaces become contaminated with feces or vomit, be sure to thoroughly launder and disinfect these items. Just remember to handle them carefully in order to protect yourself.