Here's How The Flu & Norovirus Are Different

When winter days consists of sled riding and sipping hot cocoa by the fireplace, life is good. Unfortunately, picturesque iterations of these chilly days are few and far between, and the season is much more frequently characterized by runny noses and measuring out perfect portions of cough syrup. That's because super contagious cold weather illnesses are making the rounds at kids' schools and at home, meaning that sick days are just part of the deal. There are some ways to protect the health of every member of the family, though, and that starts with how the flu and norovirus are different — and what to do if either invades your life and comfort.

It's peak season for both the flu and the norovirus, more commonly known as the stomach flu or the stomach bug. Both will put its host out of commission for a few days, and both are incredibly contagious — especially among people who are in close quarters, such as sharing a classroom or an office. But there are some significant key differences that will help the vigilant parent know when one or the other is about to strike, how to prevent it, and what to do if the whole family ends up temporarily couch-ridden and destitute.


The norovirus, true to its apocalyptic-soundings scientific name, is defined by intense illness — but it's a common sickness that's rarely ever requires a hospital stay for otherwise healthy people. Clues that you or a loved one may have contracted the norovirus (it's very easy to do; more on that later) include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, and fatigue.

Having caused 15 pediatric deaths so far this season, according to CNN, the flu is a somewhat more serious illness. Symptoms emerge abruptly, and encompass fever, chills, headache, soreness, and the "feeling that you don't want to get out of bed," as Emory Healthcare chief medical officer James Steinberg told the outlet.


But before it gets to the point of gauging symptoms, there are some important prevention techniques to employ. With the flu, it's simple: Get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone 6 months old and up get a flu shot each year, and doing so can quite literally be life-saving. And, for anyone on the fence about this, here is your friendly reminder that vaccines do not cause autism, ever.

The prevention situation is a little bit trickier when it comes to the stomach flu, or norovirus. One in every five people contracts the norovirus each year, partly because stopping its transmission is a herculean task. If it's going around or a person you must be around has it (lookin' at you, kids), wash your hands with hot water and soap regularly, avoid coming in direct contact with their dirty laundry, scrub down all surfaces with hot water and bleach, and avoid eating food prepared by anyone who's been sick. Otherwise, just hope for the best. No vaccine will prevent it, and no drug will treat it.


Bad news for parents: The norovirus loves to whip around places like daycare centers and schools, where there are lots of people inhabiting a relatively confined space. Remember all that vigorous cleaning from the previous section? Here's why: You can catch norovirus accidentally by getting the stool or vomit of an infected person in your mouth. It seems like that wouldn't happen especially often, but consider how easy it is to get those tiny particles on surfaces like door knobs. Which brings us back to the crucial role of hand-washing, ladies and gents. Typically, it's even possible for infected people to keep spreading these germs even a day or two after they start feeling better.

For people who haven't been vaccinated for the flu, catching it is as simple as breathing in droplets people emit when they breathe or talk — and this can happen even if you're standing as far a six feet away from the other person, according to the CDC. Adults may spread it a day before they feel sick and as long as five to seven days afterwards; kids could give it to others for up to a full week, too.

Length Of Illness

According to Everyday Health, a bout of flu takes about two full weeks to run its course, but the most intense symptoms are concentrated in the span of about two or three days. The norovirus swoops in and out more quickly: Expect the illness to last for about 12 to 60 hours.


For both of these sicknesses, the general strategy (barring possible serious complications) is to rest and wait it out. Even though there is no medical treatment for the norovirus, it's imperative to drink lots of liquids to prevent dehydration from all the throwing up and diarrhea. If dehydration does happen, it may be necessary to visit the hospital to get hooked up to an IV. Bed rest and lost of fluids are essential for a speedy-as-possible recovery from the flu, too, but some medications are available to aid this process as well, according to the Mayo Clinic.

And even during the darkest bouts of either sickness, just remember — spring is just around the corner.