Norovirus: How to avoid it and what to do if you’re victim to the winter vomiting bug

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  • Every year, the winter vomiting virus, also known as norovirus, affects up to 1 million people in Britain.

    The best way to avoid the dreaded winter vomiting bug is to stay well away from sick people – but if you’re stuck in an office, have kids to feed or shopping to do, you can’t exactly live like a hermit until it disappears.

    So how can you avoid norovirus, and what should you do if you’re unlucky enough to get it?

    Norovirus symptoms

    The main symptoms of norovirus are vomiting and diarrhoea, but you may also experience a raised temperature and aches and pains alongside them.

    Although we refer to it as the winter vomiting bug, you can catch it at any time throughout the year.

    Avoiding norovirus

    It may seem like common sense but always wash your hands well with soap and water after using the toilet, especially public ones. You should also disinfect any surfaces you think could have been contaminated by the virus, and avoid eating raw, unwashed food.

    Above all, avoid close contact with anybody who has been diagnosed with norovirus, as particles can easily get into your mouth and infect you too.

    How to stop other people catching the norovirus from you

    • Clean any kitchen worktops or bathroom surfaces you’ve touched with a disinfectant spray. This includes door handles and stair bannisters. Remember to throw out the cloth you use to wipe the sides down too. Germs can last for up to three days on unwashed surfaces and projectile vomiting can spread the germs up to 10 feet away!
    • Don’t keep a bucket by the bed or with you in front of the TV. Unless you disinfect it every time you’re sick, it will stay as a breeding ground for germs. Try to get to the bathroom.
    • Always flush the toilet after you’ve used it but make sure you put the lid down so that the water, and whatever else, doesn’t splash out.
    • Change your clothes or nightclothes after you’ve been sick and if you’re sitting around in a dressing gown or with a towel near you wash these as well. Make sure you change your bedsheets as often as possible and wash them immediately on 60°C. Try not to leave them in a laundry basket.
    • Don’t prepare food for anyone else for at least three days after the symptoms have gone.

    Unfortunately there is no instant cure for the norovirus – you just
    need to let it run its course. It’s usually harmless, but very unpleasant!

    Because the virus is always changing, you can get norovirus more than once – your body is unable to build up long-term resistance to it.

    What the experts say

    GP Dr Robert Henderson explains, ‘It’s dehydration, rather than the virus
    itself, that is dangerous. The loss of water and essential minerals from
    dehydration prevents the body from functioning normally and causes
    potentially serious complications’.

    Dr Henderson recommends oral dehydration therapy that you can buy from a supermarket or pharmacy (such as Dioralyte) to help speed up re-hydration and replace the body salts that you have lost.

    ‘People can still be contagious up to 48 hour after symptoms have stopped, so it’s important to follow medical advice to prevent the spread of infection to avoid the virus attacking another person,’ he adds.

    Other things you can do to help speed up recovery from the norovirus

    • Sip fresh water as often as you can – although be aware that if you’re still being sick, your body won’t be able to retain the fluid.
    • Disinfect the toilet after each bout of sickness or diarrhoea.
    • Take paracetamol to ease any aches or pains.
    • Try sticking to a light diet when you feel up to it – foods that are
      easy to digest (such as soup, rice, pasta and bread) are best to start
    • Stay off work (or school) until 48 hours after the symptoms of norovirus have gone.
    • Try to avoid coming into contact with people for these few days.

    When to call the doctor

    As the NHS advises, you don’t normally need to see your GP if you think you or your child has norovirus, as there’s no specific treatment for it. In fact, visiting the doctor whilst you’re suffering from norovirus can increase the risk of passing it on to others.

    However, they suggest that you seek medical advice if:

    • Your baby or child has passed six or more watery stools or has vomited three times or more in the past 24 hours
    • Your baby or child is less responsive, feverish, or has pale or mottled skin
    • You or your child has symptoms of severe dehydration, such as persistent dizziness, only passing small amounts of urine or no urine at all, or reduced consciousness – babies and elderly people have a greater risk of becoming dehydrated
    • You have bloody diarrhoea
    • Your symptoms haven’t started to improve after a few days
    • You or your child have a serious underlying condition, such as kidney disease, and have diarrhoea and vomiting

    If you are unsure whether you need medical assistance or not, call the NHS non-emergency number on 111 and they will be able to advise you further.

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