What are risks of Norovirus when pregnant?

There is a lot of talk about Norovirus in the news this season. Norovirus is a type of virus that causes gastroenteritis, also known as the common “stomach flu.” It is an unpleasant disease to get, but usually isn’t dangerous to either you or your baby.

About 1 in 5 adults get gastroenteritis every year, especially during winter months; half the time, Norovirus is the cause. Typical symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping, and they are usually gone within 2-3 days. You can get Norovirus from touching something that a person with the virus touched, by sharing their food/drink, or by eating/drinking infected food/drink.

Norovirus does not directly affect your baby. Studies have shown that there are no unique harms of Norovirus when you’re pregnant. However, all the vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances (for example, problems with your sodium and potassium levels). This can increase your chance of getting a urinary tract infection, and, if the dehydration is severe, can lead to preterm labor and to your giving birth earlier than you should.

That’s why it’s important to prevent Norovirus. Stay away from people with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea, wash your hands regularly with soap and water, and avoid eating raw or undercooked food. If you do get Norovirus, the best thing to do is to keep hydrated and drink plenty of fluids. No medication will help, and anti-diarrheal medications may be harmful. Get plenty of rest. Always let your provider know, and go to the ER if you have high fevers, experience contractions, or can’t keep down liquids.

Dr. Leana S. Wen, M.D., is an emergency physician at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital and a clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School. She is the author of the new book, When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests.

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