Norovirus in Children: How Does It Affect Them

Norovirus in children causes acute gastroenteritis, with symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. This infection can be dangerous.
Norovirus in Children: How Does It Affect Them
Leidy Mora Molina

Written and verified by the nurse Leidy Mora Molina.

Last update: 05 May, 2023

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that causes acute gastroenteritis. It’s distributed worldwide and affects more than 685 million people annually. Of these, about 200 million are children under 5 years of age. Read on to learn more about norovirus in children.

It’s usually a virus that doesn’t cause major complications. However, it can be potentially dangerous when it infects at-risk populations, such as children, pregnant women, and the elderly.

Children are a population susceptible to infection, as they crawl, play, explore, and put their hands and other objects in their mouths. Therefore, they increase the risk of suffering gastrointestinal infections, such as norovirus. Let’s take a look at how this infection acts in the body, what symptoms you should observe in your child, and how to prevent infection.

What is norovirus?

Noroviruses are a group of RNA viruses that attack the gastrointestinal tract and cause acute gastroenteritis. In other words, they cause inflammation of the stomach and intestines, which is manifested by diarrhea and constant vomiting.

It’s an extremely contagious virus, to the point that just 10 particles of the virus can cause infection. In addition, it’s responsible for 75% of outbreaks of acute gastroenteritis in closed communities, such as nursing homes, hotels, schools, and daycare centers, among others.

It’s also called stomach flu, and it attacks people of all ages. However, in at-risk populations, such as immuno-suppressed people, children under 5 years of age, and the elderly, it can trigger severe dehydration. In the United States, nearly one million pediatric healthcare visits are caused by norovirus, according to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A toddler girl putting her fingers in her mouth,
Hand-to-mouth contact is one of the main ways norovirus is transmitted in children.

How is norovirus transmitted?

Norovirus is present in the stool and vomit of infected persons. It’s transmitted by the fecal-oral or vomit-oral route, i.e. through contaminated food, water, or surfaces. For example, by simply flushing the toilet, thousands of particles are dispersed into the air. The most common forms of transmission occur for the following reasons:

  • Ingesting food or water contaminated by the virus
  • Touching objects and surfaces where the virus is present and putting one’s hands to their mouth
  • Sharing food, cooking utensils, or other objects with people who have the virus or have been infected in the previous days

Symptoms of norovirus

Clinical manifestations appear between 12 and 24 hours after exposure to the virus. These include the following:

This virus is self-limiting. Symptoms usually last 1 to 3 days and subside without treatment. However, carriers can spread the virus for about two more weeks. In addition, 30% of people may be asymptomatic and transmit the virus. Hence the importance of maintaining preventive measures at all times.

The symptoms of norovirus in children

In the case of children, the symptoms are more intense, increasing the risk of rapid dehydration. For this reason, we must pay attention to the manifestations that show that the child is dehydrated:

  • Sunken eyes.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Apathy and drowsiness. In other cases, irritability.
  • Less urine. In infants, it’s evidenced by the number of diapers changed (usually less than 6 diapers a day).
  • Sunken fontanel (the soft separation of the baby’s head).
  • Few tears when crying.
A doctor checking a child's belly.
Symptoms of norovirus in children can lead to dehydration and aggravate the condition. That’s why it’s key to offer fluids and go to the doctor immediately.

How to deal with norovirus in children?

The most important thing is to keep the child hydrated at all times. Take into account these recommendations to avoid dehydration:

  • Offer oral rehydration salts, such as Pedialyte, in addition to plenty of fluids. Include water, juices, and soups. Offer it slowly, in sips, throughout the day.
  • If the baby is breastfed, breastfeeding should be on demand.
  • Remember that any medication or natural infusion you give your child must be previously approved by your pediatrician.
  • Maintain a diet for the duration of norovirus symptoms.

First of all, if your child shows strong symptoms of norovirus, you should take them to the pediatrician for a physical evaluation. Also, through blood tests, you’ll be able to determine the severity of the dehydration. In advanced cases, where there are impediments to oral rehydration, the intravenous route is used to restore lost fluids.

Measures to prevent infection

There’s no specific treatment to treat norovirus, but it’s based on reducing symptoms and preventing dehydration. Likewise, there’s still no vaccine. For this reason, measures should be taken to avoid contagion. Let’s take a look at some of them:

  • Wash hands constantly with soap and water.
  • Wash food well before offering it to your child.
  • Cook food well, as the virus is very resistant and is only eliminated at temperatures above 140° F.
  • Avoid direct contact with infected people.
  • Clean contaminated surfaces with bleach. Gloves should be worn.
  • If there’s an outbreak of norovirus in the child’s nursery or school, avoid bringing them.

Prevent and be alert

By adopting preventive measures, it’s possible to avoid the spread of norovirus, as well as other microbes, such as rotavirus, adenovirus, campylobacter, and salmonellosis. All of them cause gastroenteritis and are also common in childhood. At the same time, if your child presents symptoms compatible with norovirus, it’s essential to evaluate them and keep them hydrated. If they worsen, go to the emergency room for evaluation.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Barclay, L. (2014). Control de infecciones por norovirus. Biblioteca nacional de medicina de EE UU. Recuperado de:
  • Molina, JC. (2019). Deshidratación. Rehidratación oral y nuevas pautas de rehidratación parenteral. Madrid. Pediatría Integral XXIII (2):98-105.
  • Organización mundial de la salud. (2013). Alerta Epidemiológica: Brote de norovirus en servicios de atención de salud y comunidades cerradas. Recuperado de:
  • Schweon, S. (2012). Identificar y prevenir las infecciones por norovirus. Publicado en la revista Nursing. 2012,Volumen 30, Núm 9.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.