CareNow® - January 26, 2023

During the winter months, you will likely hear about several common illnesses like rhinovirus, norovirus, RSV, the flu, and COVID-19. Because their names are similar, the first two are commonly confused, but there are actually many differences between the two. For instance, one affects the respiratory tract while the other impacts the stomach and intestines.

So, how do you know which virus you’re suffering from and if you need to seek medical attention? We’re breaking down these two common viral infections as well as a third that’s become increasingly popular this year.

What is a rhinovirus infection?

A rhinovirus infection is a viral infection that impacts the nose and can lead to the common cold. This type of virus can cause inflammation of the nasal passages, resulting in symptoms like a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and congestion.

Typically, a rhinovirus infection isn't serious and will usually go away on its own within a few days. However, in some cases, it can lead to more serious complications, including pneumonia and ear infections.

What is a norovirus infection?

Norovirus is an extremely contagious virus that leads to vomiting and diarrhea. It's possible to get norovirus many times throughout your life since there are a number of different types of the virus. The most common way to contract the virus is through contaminated foods and surfaces or from infected people.

You should recover from norovirus in a day or two with no long-term health effects. The most common complication of norovirus is dehydration, especially for those who have a weakened immune system already.

Symptoms of norovirus and rhinovirus

Norovirus and rhinovirus are both viruses that can affect different parts of the body and have different symptoms. Here are some key distinguishers between the symptoms of norovirus and rhinovirus infections.

Symptoms of norovirus:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Fever

Symptoms of rhinovirus:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat

It’s important to note that these symptoms may vary from person to person and that not everyone who is infected with norovirus or rhinovirus will experience all of the symptoms listed above. In general, norovirus primarily affects the stomach and intestines, while rhinovirus primarily affects the respiratory tract.

How long does rhinovirus last?

Usually, a rhinovirus infection lasts for a few days. Most people will start to feel better within three to five days, although symptoms can last up to a week or longer. Factors such as a person's age, overall health, and the specific strain of the virus that they have contracted can directly impact how long the virus sticks around.

How is norovirus spread?

Norovirus can be easily spread from person to person through fecal-oral transmission, meaning that it is spread when someone ingests something (such as food or water) that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person. Those who live or work in close quarters such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes, are at a higher risk of the virus.

It can also be spread by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. Much like rhinovirus, the best way to protect yourself and others from getting norovirus is by washing your hands with soap and water. You should also practice proper disinfection of commonly used areas like bathroom and kitchen counters.

How long does norovirus live on surfaces?

Norovirus can survive on surfaces for several days, depending on factors such as the type of surface, the temperature and humidity of the environment, and the amount of virus present. The best way to get rid of the virus is to clean any surfaces that may have come into contact with norovirus using a disinfectant.

What is the difference between RSV and norovirus?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and norovirus are two different types of viruses. RSV is a respiratory virus that primarily affects the lungs and can cause symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Norovirus, on the other hand, is a type of stomach flu that primarily affects the digestive system and can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Is RSV contagious?

Yes, RSV is highly contagious and can be easily spread from person to person. It’s typically spread through respiratory secretions, such as saliva, mucus, and nasal fluids when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

The virus can also be spread by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. People with RSV are most contagious during the first few days of their illness, but they can remain contagious for several weeks, even after their symptoms have resolved.

It’s important to practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently and avoiding close contact with people who are infected with RSV, to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Can adults get RSV?

While RSV most commonly affects infants and young children, adults can get RSV too. Healthy adults most often experience mild symptoms, but RSV can be more severe for older adults, especially those with underlying medical conditions such as heart or lung disease.

Symptoms of RSV in adults can include cough, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and fever. It’s important for adults at high risk for complications to take precautions to avoid contracting RSV, such as washing their hands regularly and avoiding close contact with infected individuals.

Is it common for adults to get RSV?

It’s difficult to determine exactly how many adults get RSV each year, as the virus is most commonly diagnosed in infants and young children. It’s estimated that up to 10% of adults experience an RSV infection at some point in their lives. For adults at high risk for complications, it's important to take precautions to prevent contracting RSV — especially avoiding contact with those infected.

How do babies get RSV?

Babies can become infected with RSV in a number of ways. RSV is typically spread through respiratory secretions, such as saliva, mucus, and nasal fluids when an infected person coughs or sneezes around an infant.

Babies can also become infected with RSV if they touch a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touch their nose, mouth, or eyes. It’s also possible for a baby to be infected with RSV before birth if the mother is infected during the later stages of pregnancy.

If you or your child is suffering from symptoms common to rhinovirus, norovirus, or RSV, you should be seen by a medical provider who can give you a proper diagnosis and put you on a treatment plan immediately.

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