David Casey
The Pawtucket Times

Itís called Norovirus, a highly contagious gastrointestinal illness transmitted by the ingestion of human feces, and itís taking Rhode Island by storm.

To be fair, according to Maria Wah-Fitta, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, Norovirus infection spikes every year at the onset of winter, but the virulent stomach bug is no less unpleasant for its regularity.

Essentially, Norovirus is a 24-hour stomach virus that causes sudden and severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, an illness commonly referred to as a “stomach flu,” although a Norovirus infection is not caused by Influenza.

In the last week, according to Wah-Fitta, state epidemiologists have identified 60 suspected cases of Norovirus and confirmed three at the state laboratory. On Monday alone, DOH reported 13 suspected cases of Norovirus infection.

Although Norovirus season is in full swing, Herbert Rakatansky, a physician at Memorial Hospital and a Clinical Professor of Medicine at Brown University, said it is hard for doctors in the trenches to gauge the virusí impact.

“We havenít seen many instances of Norovirus, but that doesnít necessarily mean anything,” said Rakatansky. “This is a fairly self-limited disease. For the most part, people who come down with Norovirus do not end up at the hospital. Unless there are complications – unless youíre predisposed to dehydration, which is the most dangerous aspect of Norovirus, people generally stay home for a couple days and return to work when theyíre ready.”

Norovirus is highly communicable and usually transmitted through the consumption of food or beverages that contain trace amounts of human excrement. Transmission usually occurs when food or beverages are handled by people who neglected to wash their hands after using the restroom. Unfortunately, contaminated food items or vessels cannot be identified with the naked eye, and even a tiny amount of Norovirus will cause an infection within one to two days of exposure.

The effects of Norovirus are similar to that of your average, run-of-the-mill stomach flu.

Unlucky Norovirus recipients may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and painful stomach cramps, although Norovirus typically does not impact long-term health unless a person is prone to dehydration. Hydration is the only known treatment.

In order to prevent the spread of Norovirus, state health officials recommend extra caution on the part of infected individuals.

Because the virus is contagious for 24 to 72 hours after recovery, it is important for people who think they have contracted Norovirus to wash hands frequently and thoroughly, isolate themselves from others and refrain from preparing food.

Healthy individuals should wash their hands frequently and thoroughly – especially after changing a diaper, using a restroom or assisting someone to use the restroom. It is also important for food service workers to avoid bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food.

For more information on Norovirus and a list of prevention strategies, a Norovirus fact sheet is available online at