A nasty strain of Norovirus (otherwise known as the ‘winter vomiting bug’) is expected to sweep across Britain this winter and leave us all feeling under the weather.
What actually is Norovirus and is there a way of preventing the virus from spreading?
Dr Seth Rankin, the founder of London Doctors Clinic, gives us a quick overview of this seasonal sickness bug….
What is Norovirus?
Norovirus is a gastrointestinal condition which generally leads to an upset stomach. This nasty virus is a common cause of vomiting and diarrhoea and can affect people of any age. Fortunately, the body generally fights the virus on its own, however, there are plenty of tips for reducing the unpleasant symptoms in the meantime!
What are the Symptoms of Norovirus?
The virus affects the gastrointestinal system and therefore produces many of the same symptoms of gastroenteritis. The symptoms of Norovirus include:
• Suddenly feeling sick
• Projective vomiting
• Watery diarrhoea
• A slight fever
• Stomach pain
• Aches and pains in your limbs
The symptoms of norovirus generally start to show a couple of days after catching the virus and generally resolve themselves after 2/3 days.
Unfortunately, like many other viruses, the Norovirus can mutate (change), meaning your body cannot develop long-term resistance to it and you could catch it again.
How Do People Catch Norovirus?
Norovirus spreads easily in places where lots of people are in close contact, such as; schools, workplaces, hospitals and nursing homes.
You can catch Norovirus through:
• Close contact with someone infected with Norovirus – it can be airborne and can be spread by breathing in particles others have breathed out.
• Touching contaminated surfaces/objects – the virus can live outside the body for several days.
• Eating contaminated food – this tends to happen if a person with the virus does not wash their hands before handling food.
Cruise ships are notoriously bad places for outbreaks of Norovirus, due to the high volume of people living in close quarters.
Like many other viral infections, there is no specific treatment or cure that is effective against Norovirus, and antibiotics will not help. The symptoms, however, will pass by themselves as your body fights the infection.
If you are experiencing diarrhoea and vomiting, it is advisable to stay at home and rest until the symptoms subside. Norovirus is highly contagious so staying home will also reduce the risk of others becoming unwell.
Despite there being no direct treatment against Norovirus, the symptoms can be eased and reduced in the following ways:
1. Drinking plenty of fluids:
· You will need to drink more than usual to replace the fluids, lost through diarrhoea and vomiting.
· Although water is best, fruit juice and soup can also help reduce dehydration. However, children should stick to water, as fizzy drinks and juice may worsen the diarrhoea.
2. Taking paracetamol will help ease the fever or aches and pains.
3. Lots of rest will help your body fight the issues.
4. Eating plain foods, such as soup, rice, pasta, bread will give you energy.
5. Taking rehydration solution – these can be purchased from a pharmacy and come in a range of flavours. They may be particularly helpful if you have symptoms of dehydration such as dry mouth or dark urine. Children under the age of 1 are at a much greater risk of dehydration especially following diarrhoea and vomiting so if your child is unwell, keep a close eye on their fluid intake.
Stop the Spread of Norovirus!
Remember, Norovirus is very contagious.
You can reduce the risk of spread by:
• Washing your hands regularly with soap and water
• Staying off work or school for at least 48 hours if you are ill
• Disinfecting surfaces with a bleach-based cleaner
• Not sharing towels
• Flushing away infected bodily fluids and cleaning the surrounding area – particularly faeces and vomit
• Avoid eating raw/unwashed produce
You will be infectious from the start of your symptoms until 48 hours after your symptoms have stopped.
Washing hands is very important to prevent the spread of Norovirus, especially before preparing food and after going to the toilet!
When to Seek Medical Advice with Norovirus
While you generally will not need to visit the doctor if you are suffering from Norovirus,
there are some situations where it may be necessary.
As an adult, you should seek medical help if:
• You have bloody diarrhoea
• You have a previous underlying condition such as kidney disease, which may worsen the symptoms
• Your symptoms have not improved after a few days
• You have symptoms of severe dehydration:
◦ Passing small amounts of urine or no urine at all
◦ Reduced consciousness
If your child has Norovirus/diarrhoea and vomiting, you should seek medical help if:
• Your baby or child has passed 6 or more watery stools in 24 hours
• Your baby or child has vomited 3 times or more in 24 hours
• Your baby or child is less responsive, feverish or has pale/mottled skin
Despite being very unpleasant, the Norovirus is usually self-limiting, meaning your body will overcome the disease by itself. There is no specific treatment available, although symptoms can be managed with paracetamol, rehydration therapies and lots of rest. It’s still important, however, to seek medical help if you’re severely unwell, or exhibit any of the symptoms mentioned above.
If you are worried, your GP will be able to perform a thorough medical assessment, and then facilitate any necessary tests. These may include blood tests or stool sample testing, to narrow down the cause of the symptoms (Norovirus, or other bacterial cause). This will also rule out any other causes, and advise on better management, to help you feel better sooner.
Dr Seth Rankin is founder of London Doctors Clinic