The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has reported that there’s been a steep increase in confirmed cases of the “winter vomiting bug”, although it has not shared the exact number of infections.
National surveillance data shows that the virus is 66% more prevalent than average for this time of year, with the largest increase in those aged 65 and over.
The illness is particularly prevalent in care homes, as well as hospitals and schools.
UKHSA says that these levels have not been seen in “over a decade” – so it is encouraging people to take action to avoid catching the nasty bug.
While most people make a full recovery within two to three days, it’s still very unpleasant. Think vomiting, diarrhoea, and just generally feeling awful.
The very young, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are also at greater risk of becoming dehydrated as a result of the virus, so it’s best to avoid spreading the illness if you can – even if you don’t fit into these groups.
Here’s what you need to know to reduce your chances of catching it.
How is norovirus spread?
People usually start to show symptoms within one to two days of being infected.
The virus is spread through contact with an infected individual or a contaminated surface. As those with the illness are prone to vomiting, this can be a source of contamination.
It can also be spread through contaminated food which may have been handled by those who have norovirus.
It’s not clear why it spreads more in winter, but it may be because we spend more time indoors, in closer proximity to each other, making transmission more likely.
The weather is thought to make a difference too. Absolute humidity is lower in the winter, which means viral particles can survive for longer on surfaces and skin, remaining infectious for longer.
What are the symptoms of norovirus?
- Feeling sick (nausea)
- Being sick (vomiting)
- High temperature
- Aching arms and legs
- Stomach cramps
How can you avoid spreading norovirus?
The UKHSA urges people to practice good hand hygiene via regular hand washing. Of course, after the Covid era, this is something we should all be doing anyway, but it’s even more important if you, or someone close to you, comes down with the bug.
UKHSA has also noted that alcohol gels do not kill the virus off, so make sure you use soap and warm water instead.
If you live with someone who has the illness, wear disposable gloves to handle contaminated items.
Stay at home and do not return to work if you have symptoms yourself, and do not send sick children to school or nursery until 48 hours after symptoms clear.
Avoid visiting those in care homes or hospitals (or even visiting the GP surgery yourself) until 48 hours after symptoms clear, too.
Try to use a bleach-based household cleaner or bleach and hot water to regularly disinfect surfaces, including toilets, taps, telephones and door handles, and try not to cook or help prepare meals for others until 48 hours after symptoms stop.
Importantly, wash contaminated clothing or bedding with detergent, at 60C to kill the virus.
How can you recover from the virus?
The best thing to do is stay home, drink plenty of fluids and rest, rest, rest – the symptoms should subside in a couple of days.
If you’re concerned about your symptoms, contact NHS 111 or speak to your GP on the phone.
Once you’ve had it, you will be immune for around 14 weeks – but after that it’s possible to be reinfected.