Carol Scholey blog: Protecting yourself from norovirus this winter

The winter months are here again and with it, unfortunately, comes the inevitable increase in our old enemy, norovirus – better known as the winter vomiting bug.

Norovirus, which causes diarrhoea and vomiting, is one of the most common stomach bugs in the UK.  Unpleasant to the last, it can spread quickly in close-knit areas like schools, nursing homes and, especially, hospitals.

That’s why it is very important if you have sickness and/or diarrhoea not to visit hospital until you have been completely symptom-free for at least a couple of days. If you do visit before then it could mean that you may unwittingly pass the illness onto hospital patients and staff.

An outbreak of the infection in hospital means we have to restrict admissions and visitors to wards to contain the virus, ensuring we keep our most vulnerable patients safe.

Fortunately, Norovirus usually clears up in one or two days and most people can care for themselves with paracetamol, plenty of fluids and rest. Symptoms include the sudden onset of projectile vomiting, watery diarrhoea, and some people may also experience headaches, mild temperature and stomach cramps.

If you suspect that you are victim to the virus, the best thing to do is to stay at home until you are feeling better.  There’s no cure, so unfortunately you have to let it run its miserable course.

However, you can help protect yourself from the illness, especially if you understand how its spread.  You can get norovirus through contact with an infected person or by eating, or drinking, contaminated food, or water, or by having contact with contaminated surfaces or objects.

The simple remedies such as washing your hands regularly, especially before meals and after visiting the toilet is the best defence against the bug.  Good hand hygiene is supported by World Health Organisation (WHO) and is one of the best ways to prevent and control many infections.

We’ll never completely rid our hospitals of unpleasant illnesses such as norovirus; however we can do our best to limit the effect they have. By following the above advice you can side-step this tricky little bug, ensuring you stay healthy and happy as the nights draw in and the weather turns chilly.

Carol Scholey
Lead Nurse Infection, Prevention & Control