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High risk of norovirus this winter

December 2016

man comforting sick wife on sofa

Most people will have read that the norovirus vomiting bug is at a very high level this winter, with more people than usual suffering from this illness.

The main symptoms are sickness and water diarrhoea, sometimes one or the other and sometimes both together. There can also be a slight fever, headaches, stomach cramps and aching limbs; it really isn’t a pleasant illness at all.

Norovirus can be caught very easily. The virus can live for days on surfaces like clothing or even door handles, and you can pick up the virus by just touching contaminated surfaces. Eating contaminated food (prepared by someone carrying the virus) can also be a risk, and in a crowded area you can even catch the virus by breathing in small particles from the outgoing breathe of a carrier.

The virus particles can then be ingested through your mouth or nose. When they reach the small intestine the virus particles enter the cell lining, make copies of themselves and begin to multiply. This causes the gut to become inflamed. The diarrhoea and nausea are the body’s way of fighting the infection and trying to get rid of it from the body, and in most cases you will begin to develop the symptoms within 12 to 48 hours.

Once you have the illness, there is no cure and the best advice is to have plenty of rest and let the virus run its course. With the right care, most of us can recover well in our own homes without professional medical intervention. Also stay at home if you possibly can because norovirus can be spread very easily.

You can take paracetamol for any aches and pains but a key is to drink plenty of fluids – the body is trying to flush the virus out and you need more liquid than usual to ensure you don’t become dehydrated. Water is the best drink but if the symptoms are very bad, then you may need a special rehydration drink from the pharmacy.

Becoming dehydrated is in fact one of the key risks for older people suffering from norovirus and in its early stages it can be hard to identify.

Symptoms of dehydration can include:

  • Feeling thirsty and lightheaded
  • Having a dry mouth
  • Tiredness
  • Having dark coloured or smelly urine
  • Not wanted to go to the loo for long periods.

Once you feel like eating again, plain foods such as soup, rice, pasta and bread are best.  You can obtain anti-diarrhoeal and anti-vomiting medication from the pharmacy if your symptoms are very bad, but generally the medical advice is to let the virus progress and then disappear naturally. Antiobiotics will not help at all against a virus.

Once your own antibodies have attacked the virus, and it has been removed from your system, you will have immunity against that specific virus. However, you can catch norovirus more than once because there are many different types of the virus. There is no way to build up long-term resistance against all the different types of norovirus other than keeping as healthy as you can.

One important aspect for anyone with grandchildren is to be aware that passing on norovirus to very young children can be dangerous; young babies under one year are particularly at risk. There has been some advice that once the symptoms have passed, it is important to stay at home for a further 48 hours to avoid any risk of passing on the virus.  This is well worth considering if you have young grandchildren.


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