Have a stomach bug? Contagious norovirus cases making unusual spring appearance

Symptoms can be similar to hepatitis, so look out for specific differences

If your family has been hit with a stomach bug recently, chances are, it's the highly contagious norovirus. The virus is making unusual rounds this spring.

SAN ANTONIO – If your family has recently been hit with a stomach bug, it may be the highly contagious norovirus, which is making unusual rounds this spring.

“It causes symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, sometimes fever. It comes on really quickly, but it also goes away pretty quickly,” said Dr. Robert Sanders, the associate medical director at University Health’s Pedi Express clinic downtown.

Dr. Sanders has been seeing a significant spike in norovirus cases over the past couple of months.

The virus can be seen year-round, but it usually spikes in the wintertime. Recent lab results from University Hospital showed the virus spiking in April and early May.

“It’s really common to see outbreaks in places with a lot of people: schools, daycares -- you’ve heard of cruise ships having these outbreaks,” Sanders said.

Parents have told KSAT it’s been pretty rampant in daycares.

Local school districts don’t track absences by specific illnesses but anecdotally reported different things:

  • San Antonio ISD and South San ISD reported regular absence numbers due to stomach-related illnesses.
  • Northside ISD reported absences of students and staff due to a stomach bug.
  • North East ISD reported higher numbers of elementary school students absent with GI symptoms but noted cases seem to be declining.
  • Public charter district Jubilee Academies reported it had 37 students and 25 staff members with GI symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. One staff member with confirmed norovirus was hospitalized last week. One student with confirmed norovirus is hospitalized.

Norovirus is hard to control once it’s in circulation because it can’t be wiped out with alcohol-based cleaners.

Hand sanitizer won’t work well, so Sanders said it’s crucial to wash your hands frequently with soap and water.

If your family ends up with norovirus, staying hydrated is important.

“Small amounts of fluids more frequently than you’d usually give them. For babies, instead of a 6-ounce bottle of formula, change it to maybe Pedialyte and give them an ounce, and then maybe 20 minutes later, give them another ounce,” Sanders said.

Make sure you know when it’s time to head to the doctor.

“If they’re vomiting persists, and they’re not able to keep fluids down, and there are signs of dehydration, we want to see them,” Sanders said. “If their mouth is dry-- they’re not making saliva or tears -- those are concerns if they’re not urinating on a regular basis.”

Sanders said babies should have wet diapers at least every 8-10 hours. Older kids should have urine that is more clear, not dark yellow or brown.

He’s also reminding parents about a global hepatitis outbreak in kids.

“Both hepatitis A and norovirus cause very similar symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain,” Sanders said.

A big difference is that norovirus is short-lived, only lasting two to three days.

“Hepatitis is something that will last longer and have more severe symptoms, and the last thing is that you might see yellowing of the eyes or skin,” Sanders explained.

That yellowing is called jaundice and signals liver problems, so if you see it, head to the doctor immediately.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.