Big things have small beginnings is the ominous line from the movie “Prometheus” – uttered when things start to get ugly.
The “small beginnings” takes place on a tiny bit of genetic material in a droplet on a fingertip. In real life, a tiny bit of genetic material is known as a virus, and several billion would fit in the smallest visible droplet.
Norovirus is another name for the Norwalk Virus. Many things in medicine have several names. Every medical student is convinced they do that just to torture us!
Regardless of the name, norovirus is a nasty illness that may not do you in, but it will certainly make you wish you were dead for a day or two.
Norovirus is a pretty famous bug. It has single handedly brought more than one cruise ship to its knees (port). And having been cleaned to the limits of human ability, it still caused massive illness on the next cruise ship voyage.
The problem with norovirus is it’s very good at its one trick – infecting the next victim. A mere 20 virus particles can cause the illness and are enough to bring you to your knees before the porcelain alter.
I grew up calling this the flu, but norovirus has nothing to do with influenza. Its proper name is gastroenteritis, and the norovirus accounts for 90 percent of the viral cases.
Nausea is a symptom of norovirus and has to be one of the worst feelings on the planet. Projectile vomiting, a euphemism for vomiting so hard it bounces, soon follows. Do that a dozen times and see how much you love life.
While you are trying to deal with your stomach, the intestines join the party. Add some abdominal pain, a little fever, a lot of diarrhea, muscle aches and headache, and you have achieved the “just shoot me” kind of illness.
The virus is easily spread because it comes out of all orifices. The vomiting is so hard that viral particles are vaporized and taken in by anyone close by. It’s a wonder the whole planet doesn’t have norovirus.
But the good thing is you at least get partial immunity after the illness; enough to not get re-infected right away, at least not until you have the strength to deal with it again.
The saving grace of this miserable virus is the symptoms often last less than one day. Norovirus sufferers experience about 12 hours of feeling about as badly as you can. Then like magic, the next day you are 98 percent better.
And for a few days your life will be glorious. The simple new-found ability to not throw up, and to control your bowels, seems the greatest of blessings. Food tastes amazing and the sky is really blue.
Getting norovirus has at least one redeeming quality – it provides great perspective afterward.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona