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Comparing Rotavirus vs Norovirus: Symptoms, Spread, and Severity

rotavirus vs norovirus

Rotavirus and norovirus are both viruses that can give you an upset stomach, with symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting. However, they differ in how they spread, the symptoms they cause, and how serious they can be.

Rotavirus and Norovirus: The Stomach Infections

Rotavirus is a virus that mainly affects young children, causing stomach and intestine issues. It is easily contagious and spreads by touching contaminated surfaces or being around infected people. The sickness generally goes away in a few days, but kids can become severely dehydrated.

On the other hand, norovirus is known for causing what many people call the “stomach flu.” It is a virus that spreads easily and can make you sick. It’s in food, drink, and surfaces that have been contaminated. Many people get better on their own after a few days, but it can be extremely serious for some. Good hygiene is important to stop the virus from spreading to other people.

Rotavirus vs Norovirus: The Symptoms

Both viruses can make you feel pretty sick, with symptoms like:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Stomach pain

Rotavirus tends to cause more severe diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration, especially in kids. Norovirus, on the other hand, often causes both vomiting and diarrhea simultaneously, along with stomach cramps and nausea.

Difference Between Norovirus and Rotavirus: Causes

Both norovirus and rotavirus are highly contagious viruses that can spread easily from person to person. Norovirus transmits through contaminated food, water, or surfaces; just a few virus particles can make someone sick. Consuming contaminated seafood or food an affected individual prepares can potentially spread the disease.

Rotavirus usually spreads through the fecal-oral route, which means a person can get infected by ingesting particles containing the virus from contaminated food, water, or surfaces. People with rotavirus shed the virus in their stool, and they are most contagious during the first few days after recovery.

Diagnosing Norovirus and Rotavirus

When you have the stomach flu, doctors try to determine whether the cause is a norovirus, rotavirus, or something else. Here’s how they do it:

Medical History

  • They will inquire about your symptoms, how long you have had them, and whether you have been around sick people or traveled recently. They will also inquire about your medical history and any medications you are taking.

Physical Exam

They’ll check your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure to see if you’re dehydrated. They might also listen to your stomach and tap it to check for pain. If there’s blood in your stool, they might need a rectal exam.

Lab Tests

Sometimes, they’ll need to test your stool to confirm the cause of your symptoms. You will be asked to provide a stool sample that will be tested at a laboratory. They employ genetic tests to detect noroviruses and rotaviruses. These tests can include:

  • PCR Assays: These tests look for viral genetic material in your feces. They can detect multiple viruses, or they can be specific to one virus, like the RT-qPCR tests for norovirus.
  • Enzyme Immunoassays: These tests look for viruses that have caused an immune response in your stool. They give results quickly but are not as sensitive as PCR assays.
  • Multiplex Gastrointestinal Assays: These newer tests can detect up to five different viruses, including rotavirus and norovirus, by picking up nucleic acids from the viruses in your stool.

Norovirus vs. Rotavirus: Treatment & Prevention

In most cases, norovirus and rotavirus infections go away independently without needing special treatment. Unfortunately, there are no medicines that are made just for these viruses. The usual care includes:

  • Resting: It’s important to rest and stay home from work or school to avoid spreading the virus and let your body recover.
  • Drinking fluids: Since dehydration is a big concern, it’s important to drink plenty of water and drinks with electrolytes like sports drinks and fruit juices. Babies, older people, and people with weak immune systems may need special drinks to help them stay hydrated.
  • Eating: Stick to bland, easy-to-digest foods to help with nausea and vomiting. People often say to follow the BRAT diet, which stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
  • Managing symptoms: Over-the-counter medications like Imodium and Pepto-Bismol can help with diarrhea, but they may not be safe for children or if there’s blood in the stool.
  • Probiotics: These can help with diarrhea. You can take supplements or eat foods like yogurt, kefir, or kimchi that contain probiotics.
  • IV therapy: In severe cases of dehydration, especially if you can’t keep fluids down, you may need IV fluids to rehydrate. It’s important to do this in a hospital to avoid major problems.

You can help prevent both norovirus and rotavirus by:

  • Washing hands: Wash hands well with soap and water after using the bathroom, changing diapers, giving medicine, or handling food.
  • Handling food safely: Wash fruits and veggies, cook meat thoroughly, and be careful with shellfish.
  • Cleaning surfaces: Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces.
  • Avoiding contact: If you have one of these viruses, avoid cooking meals or caring for others.

The best way to prevent rotavirus is by getting vaccinated. In the United States, infants can get two FDA-approved rotavirus vaccines when they are 6 to 24 weeks old.

Which is Worse: Rotavirus or Norovirus?

Both viruses can be dangerous, particularly for young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. Rotavirus can be more severe in young children, leading to dehydration and sometimes hospitalization. Norovirus, however, can create outbreaks in schools, cruise ships, and nursing homes.

Rotavirus vs. Norovirus: Treating & Managing the Stomach Viruses

To summarize, rotavirus and norovirus can cause stomach distress and other symptoms. Maintaining proper hygiene and being vaccinated may help protect yourself and others from certain infections. If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of either virus, it is critical to get medical attention to stay healthy.


  • Diane Silva

    Diane is a travel enthusiast, content creator, and master storyteller, capturing her adventures through captivating blogs and engaging vlogs. With a passion for the great outdoors and a love for literature, she brings a unique perspective to the travel world. Whether she's exploring hidden gems or discussing the latest trends, Diane is your go-to source for all things travel and beyond.