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How to Deal with Norovirus When You Have Emetophobia

Microscope imagery of norovirus virions
Image source: CDC via Unsplash

Living with emetophobia can be a major struggle even at the best of times. When seasonal viruses start to go around, though, your fear of vomiting may become even more intense. This is particularly the case when norovirus—alternatively called the winter vomiting bug—begins to circulate.

If you have a phobia of vomiting and are worried about catching norovirus, this article can help. Here, we’ll provide more detail about the virus, offer tips on how to avoid it, and advise you on what to do should the worst happen. We’ll also show you how you can take action to start overcoming emetophobia for good.

This article includes descriptions of the symptoms of norovirus. If you would prefer not to read this, please return to the EmetoGo homepage.

What is norovirus?

Norovirus is a type of stomach bug that causes gastroenteritis. It is usually spread via close contact with others, but can also be transmitted via contaminated food or surfaces. The most common symptoms according to the NHS are nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. You might also have a fever, stomach cramps, aching limbs and headaches.

Many people refer to norovirus as the winter vomiting bug. This is because it tends to be more prevalent in colder months—between November and April, according to Bupa. Nonetheless, it’s possible to catch the virus at any time of year.

Is gastroenteritis always caused by norovirus?

Gastroenteritis refers to inflammation of the stomach and intestines. While norovirus is the most common culprit, it can be triggered by other viruses, including rotavirus. Other possible causes include bacteria, particularly Campylobacter, or, more rarely, fungal or parasitic infections.

Does norovirus always cause vomiting?

Most people with norovirus will have symptoms that include vomiting, as well as nausea and diarrhoea. These are likely to start anywhere from twelve hours to two days after infection. However, not all patients will display all of these symptoms. In fact, according to bodies such as the Mayo Clinic and Minnesota Department of Health, you can contract norovirus without any signs or symptoms. You may still, however, pass the virus on to others.

Emetophobia and norovirus

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Image source: Anthony Tran via Unsplash

While having norovirus is an unpleasant experience for everyone, those with emetophobia may find the prospect more terrifying than most. The idea of a virus which not only causes vomiting but whose symptoms can come on with very little warning may be an emetophobe’s worst nightmare.

It’s perfectly fine to be a little worried about contracting norovirus, but if you live with emetophobia, you can quickly get caught up in obsessive and catastrophic patterns of thought. For example, you may find yourself concerned that every surface that you touch will be germ-riddled, or worrying constantly about how awful it would be if you were to come down with a stomach bug.

This, in turn, can lead to avoidant behaviour, such as refusing to eat out or meet friends because of your fear of vomiting. Given the time of year when norovirus tends to spread, it can make dealing with the holiday season with emetophobia even more difficult.

Letting emetophobia rule your decision-making in this way can seriously disrupt your life. However, you can take steps to manage your fear and live your life to the full.

How can I avoid norovirus?

If you’re worried about norovirus because of your emetophobia, a good place to start is to take sensible steps to prevent infection. Tips from the CDC include:

  • Washing your hands properly with soap and water, particularly when preparing or handling food, after using the toilet, or when taking or administering medicines
  • Following safety procedures when preparing food, such as washing fresh fruits and vegetables and thoroughly cooking shellfish
  • Avoid preparing food or caring for others while you have symptoms of norovirus and for at least two days afterwards
  • Disinfect surfaces using bleach-based household cleaners and wash clothes that may be contaminated

Where possible, avoid using hand sanitiser as a substitute for proper handwashing. The NHS advises that alcohol hand gels do not kill norovirus.

What happens if I catch norovirus?

Photo of a toilet with the lid and seat up
Image source: Giorgio Trovato via Unsplash

Though the precautions detailed above will reduce your chances of catching norovirus, it’s still possible that you could come down with the disease.

If this happens, you may be looking into how to stop vomiting with norovirus. However, the symptoms of norovirus can come on suddenly, and you may not be able to completely prevent them. While anti-emetic medications may help to ease feelings of nausea, they aren’t suitable for everyone, and they won’t treat the virus itself.

Whilst the prospect of vomiting can be horrifying to emetophobes, the good news is that the actual experience is almost always far less traumatic than the scenarios we fear. On the emetophobia subreddit, poster poppygemma3 described her own experience with a stomach bug:

“…it was nowhere near as bad as I have been making it out to myself to be for the last few years!!! It was over and done with in about 15 seconds, my stomach is no longer bloated or [nauseous]. I am so proud of myself for getting on with it and dealing with it…”

If you do find yourself experiencing norovirus symptoms, your focus should move towards ensuring that your body is able to recover. Since vomiting and diarrhoea both cause you to lose water, staying hydrated is essential. Be sure to have oral rehydration solutions at hand, which can help your body to replenish lost electrolytes. When you can keep down fluids and feel able to eat, try bland foods that are easier for your stomach to digest.

What if someone in my family has norovirus?

In some ways, seeing one’s family members contract norovirus can actually be harder for emetophobia sufferers than getting ill oneself.

One reason for this is that it can cause you to catastrophise. This is because the object of your phobia is brought to the forefront of your mind, encouraging your brain to run wild with worst-case scenarios. If you actually get ill, it’s likely that the symptoms won’t be as awful as you fear.

Some people may also find themselves feeling betrayed when their loved ones vomit around them. This can cause strain within family relationships and distance the person with emetophobia from part of their support network just at the moment when they need the most reassurance.

Emetophobes may also feel guilt if they feel unable to be there for ill family members—particularly in the case of parents whose children are sick. Nikki Campo, writing in the Washington Post, said that “[her] secret cycle of hypervigilance and avoidance, about a mostly harmless illness, felt ridiculous. Selfish. Shameful.”

The feelings aroused by emetophobia can be incredibly intense, and when a traumatic experience occurs, it’s important to be kind to yourself. If you do find it difficult to cope when those around you fall ill, then it could be a good sign that it’s time to work on tackling your phobia.

Free from fear

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Image source: Colton Duke via Unsplash

Emetophobia can be a difficult condition to overcome, but it is possible to manage your fears and live a fuller, happier life. There are a range of treatments available, including options that can be taken without needing to leave your own home.

Visit our sister site, ManageMinds, where we have a team of expert therapists offering therapeutic approaches including CBT, exposure therapy and hypnotherapy. With their support and guidance, you can break free and beat emetophobia. To find out more about how it works, get in touch with EmetoGo today, and we’ll help you to find a package that best suits your needs.