Increase in cases of norovirus ‘winter vomiting bug’ prompts advice from Public Health England

As outbreaks of norovirus (commonly known as the winter vomiting bug) see a sharp increase right across the South East, Public Health England (PHE) is urging people to take simple steps to help stop the spread of the contagious bug.

Levels of norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhoea, are expected to rise in the winter months. Although levels in the South East are higher than this time last year, this is not unprecedented as norovirus activity does vary from year to year.

Dr Girija Dabke, public health consultant and lead for gastroinstestinal illness for PHE South East, said:

The increase in norovirus that we’re seeing is common for this time of year and is in keeping with what we are seeing across the wider country. In recent weeks we have seen outbreaks in schools and care homes, as the  infection is more widespread in settings where people are in close contact.

“While it usually only lasts 1 to 2 days, it can be extremely unpleasant and is highly contagious. The most effective way to stop it spreading is by washing your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after using the toilet and before eating or preparing food, and staying away from work or school until you have been symptom free for 48 hours. Alcohol or antibacterial hand sanitisers do not protect against this sickness bug.

Norovirus affects people of all ages and is transmitted by contact with hands or surfaces that the virus has landed on from an infected person. All contaminated surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after an episode of illness. Food preparation should also be avoided by those who have been ill until 48 hours after symptoms have disappeared.

Dr Dabke added: Most people will make a full recovery fairly quickly, but it is important to drink plenty of fluids during that time to prevent dehydration especially in the very young, and elderly. We advise not to visit GP surgeries and hospitals with symptoms, however if you’re concerned, you should contact NHS 111 or talk to your GP by phone.”

Dr Vaughan Lewis, Regional Medical Director for NHS England and NHS Improvement South East, said:

“If you do experience any of the symptoms of norovirus stay at home, drink lots of water and get plenty of rest. The bug spreads really easily as only a few viral particles need to be swallowed in order for a person to become ill.

“It’s especially contagious and difficult to contain in a hospital or care home where people are together in close proximity, so I advise anyone who has symptoms to delay visiting friends and family until you are symptom free for at least 48 hours.

“Norovirus can seriously affect vulnerable patients, so sometimes hospital wards or care homes will be closed to visitors to prevent it from spreading. If you are visiting someone in hospital, please follow the hospital’s advice, and pay strict attention to hand hygiene.”

It is easy to play your part in stopping the spread of norovirus this winter – simply Think NORO:

N         No visits to hospitals, care homes and GP surgeries if you are suffering from symptoms of norovirus – send someone else to visit loved ones until you are better
O         Once you’ve been symptom-free for at least 48 hours, you’re safe to return to work, school or visit hospitals and care homes
R         Regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water, especially after using the toilet, and before eating or preparing food
O         Only hand-washing will prevent spread of norovirus – alcohol hand gels DON’T kill the virus