Protect Yourself from Norovirus

Outbreaks of the norovirus infection which causes vomiting and diarrhoea have been reported across the UK, including the South East, affecting businesses, hospitals and schools.

Now the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in the South East region has issued advice to raise awareness of the virus and how best to control the spread of this infection. The most frequent cause of infectious gastroenteritis in England and Wales, norovirus affects between 600,000 and one million people each year.

Typical symptoms are projectile vomiting and diarrhoea following the sudden onset of nausea. Illness can last from 12 hours to three days. It affects people of all ages and spreads very rapidly in confined environments such as schools, hospitals and nursing or care homes. Most people recover very quickly but immunity to it is short-lived and it is very easily transmitted from one person to another.

Kathryn Rowles, Director of the HPA's Hampshire and Isle of Wight Health Protection Unit said: "This virus quickly spreads in confined living environments such as hospitals, residential care homes and schools. It spreads rapidly from person-to-person and can become difficult to contain, making good hygiene especially important in preventing yourself and others from becoming infected. This includes thorough hand washing, especially after using the toilet and before and after handling or preparing food and before eating. Any contaminated surface should be thoroughly disinfected after an episode of illness.

"It is also very important that people with viral gastrointestinal infections such as norovirus should not visit friends or relatives in hospitals, nursing or residential care homes and should stay away from others until they are symptom free. People should remain at home from work and school for 48 hours after symptoms cease. There is no specific treatment for norovirus infection apart from letting the illness run its course and drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. This is particularly important in the very young and the elderly."

These infections cause extremely unpleasant symptoms but the illness is usually short-lived and people who are generally fit and healthy will make a full recovery without any specific medical treatment.

However, if symptoms persist, or seem to be getting worse, then the patient should ask for a telephone consultation with their GP or phone NHS Direct, the 24-hour nurse-led health advice service 0n 0845 4647