What to do if you think you have norovirus - and how to avoid getting 'nasty, dangerous but avoidable' bug
The first winter cases of norovirus have arrived in the North East - and medics are urging people to make sure the 'nasty, dangerous but avoidable' bug.
The virus usually starts with a sense of feeling sick", which is then followed by vomiting, and watery, loose diarrhoea. Depending on the person it can also include stomach cramps, general aches and pains, headaches and fever.
It is highly contagious and can spread at incredible speed in a number of ways.
Northumbria Healthcasre NHS foundation trust said cases have already hit Northumberland and North Tyneside, and medical staff the North East are urging people not to visit hospital sites if they have symptoms of the bug unless absolutely necessary.
They say outbreaks in hospitals can knock out entire hospital wards at a time when beds are needed most.
“Every year we are affected by norovirus to one degree or another – this year is part of that pattern,” said medical director Jeremy Rushmer
“The issue is that, given how fast it spreads, we often have to close whole areas; this at a time when the whole system is already under unsustainable pressure.
“It’s now severe enough that we are asking people to not visit our sites unless it is absolutely necessary. If someone you know has symptoms of norovirus do not visit – you risk causing harm to them, yourself and those close to you. If you have symptoms yourself – stay away. There is no cure; you just have to wait it out.”
What you need to know
Try to avoid going to hospital or your GP, as norovirus can spread to others very easily. Call your GP or NHS 111 if you're concerned or need any advice.
Symptoms of norovirus
You're likely to have norovirus if you experience:
:: Suddenly feeling sick
:: Projectile vomiting
:: Watery diarrhoea
:: Some people also have a slight fever, headaches, painful stomach cramps and aching limbs.
The symptoms appear one to two days after you become infected and typically last for up to two or three days.
What to do if you have norovirus
If you experience sudden diarrhoea and vomiting, the best thing to do is to stay at home until you're feeling better. There's no cure for norovirus, so you have to let it run its course.
You don't usually need to get medical advice unless there's a risk of a more serious problem.
To help ease your own or your child’s symptoms:
Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. You need to drink more than usual to replace the fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhoea – as well as water, adults could also try fruit juice and soup. Avoid giving fizzy drinks or fruit juice to children as it can make their diarrhoea worse. Babies should continue to feed as usual, either with breast milk or other milk feeds.
Take paracetamol for any fever or aches and pains.
Get plenty of rest.
If you feel like eating, eat plain foods such as soup, rice, pasta and bread.
Use special rehydration drinks made from sachets bought from pharmacies if you have signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouthor dark urine.
Adults can take antidiarrhoeal and anti-emetic (anti-vomiting) medication – these aren't suitable for everyone though, so you should check the medicine leaflet or ask or your pharmacist or GP for advice before trying them.
Babies and young children, especially if they're less than a year old, have a greater risk of becoming dehydrated.
Norovirus can spread very easily, so you should wash your handsregularly while you're ill and stay off work or school until at least 48 hours after the symptoms have cleared to reduce the risk of passing it on.
When to get medical advice
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.
Antibiotics won't help because it's caused by a virus.
Visiting your GP surgery with norovirus can put others at risk, so it's best to call your GP or NHS 111 if you're concerned or feel you need advice.
Get medical advice if:
:: Your baby or child has passed 6 or more watery stools in the past 24 hours, or has vomited 3 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
Your GP may suggest sending off a sample of your stool to a laboratory to confirm whether you have norovirus or another infection.
How is norovirus spread?
Norovirus spreads very easily in public places such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools.
You can catch it if small particles of vomit or poo from an infected person get into your mouth, such as through:
close contact with someone with norovirus – they may breathe out small particles containing the virus that you could inhale
touching contaminated surfaces or objects – the virus can survive outside the body for several days
eating contaminated food – this can happen if an infected person doesn't wash their hands before handling food
A person with norovirus is most infectious from when their symptoms start until 48 hours after all their symptoms have passed, although they may also be infectious for a short time before and after this.
You can get norovirus more than once because the virus is always changing, so your body is unable to build up long-term resistance to it.
It's not always possible to avoid getting norovirus, but following the advice below can help stop the virus spreading.
Stay off work or school until at least 48 hours after the symptoms have passed. You should also avoid visiting anyone in hospital during this time.
Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, particularly after using the toilet and before preparing food. Don't rely on alcohol hand gels, as they don't kill the virus.
Disinfect any surfaces or objects that could be contaminated. It's best to use a bleach-based household cleaner.
Wash any items of clothing or bedding that could have become contaminated separately on a hot wash to ensure the virus is killed.
Don't share towels and flannels.
Flush away any infected poo or vomit in the toilet and clean the surrounding area.
Avoid eating raw, unwashed produce and only eat oysters from a reliable source, as oysters can carry norovirus