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Difference Between The Flu and Norovirus


Alissa Sauer

Norovirus and influenza are two terms often used interchangeably to both mean the common flu. Because influenza results in a weakened immune system, many people experience other viruses, like the norovirus, while having influenza. This causes people to associate gastrointestinal issues with the flu, but the two viruses are different. Here’s what you need to know about the two viruses this flu season.

Important Differences Between Flu and Norovirus

While influenza, more commonly known as ‘the flu’ and norovirus can occur simultaneously, the two viruses are very different.

The norovirus infection affects the stomach and appears as more of a “stomach bug.” Signs and symptoms include a sudden onset of vomiting and/or diarrhea with cramps. A person may also have a low-grade fever, chills, and body aches that are similar to influenza. Norovirus has no respiratory symptoms, normally lasts 24-72 hours, and rarely causes severe complications, except in the elderly where dehydration can occur. There are 23 million cases of the norovirus in the United States each year.

Unlike norovirus, influenza is a virus that affects the lungs and respiratory system. Symptoms include a sudden fever, a headache, sore throat, cough, body aches, and congestion. Vomiting and diarrhea are not a symptom of the flu, although they may occur as the body’s immune system is weakened. The flu lasts longer than the norovirus, typically between three and seven days, although many feel its effects for longer than a week. Influenza can cause severe complications in the elderly, especially those with chronic health issues and can result in pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections, and can even be fatal. 5-20% of the total U.S. population is affected by the flu each year with 70%-85% of seasonal flu-related deaths and 54%-70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occurring in people 65 and over.

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Flu and Norovirus Treatment and Prevention

Both of these viruses typically run their course and while some medications can mitigate symptoms, norovirus and influenza typically get better on their own. Both viruses are very contagious. The flu is spread through coughing or sneezing and can be transmitted through the air or through touching contaminated surfaces. Norovirus is transmitted through the consumption of contaminated food or water, touching contaminated surfaces, or being around someone who has the virus. Because of this, anyone experiencing influenza or norovirus symptoms should stay home from work and school and refrain from preparing food for others.

To prevent the spread of both viruses, wash hands frequently with soap and water. While a vaccine is available to prevent the flu, there is no vaccine for norovirus. Flu shots need to be repeated each flu season to meet the demands of the most recent flu strain.

Have you or a loved one had influenza or norovirus? How do you prevent sickness in senior loved ones during flu season? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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