In the UK, on average between 600,000 and one million people suffer from norovirus, or winter vomiting bug, every year.
The latest information indicates that numbers are increasing; this year over a quarter of a million people have already been hit by this dreaded virus plus there has been an outbreak on a couple of major cruise ships. P&O say 10 cases have been identified on their ship the Azura and last week we heard over 300 passengers on the Oriana had caught the virus.
Norovirus wasn’t a word we knew when we were young. In fact, the word simply refers to a group of viruses that can cause gastroenteritis, an infection of the intestines which usually results in vomiting and diarrhoea. One group of viruses used to be known as Norwalk viruses; now norovirus is the name used to cover all of these.
Whatever it is called, it really isn’t very nice at all and describing it as a simple stomach bug doesn’t give any indication at all of the total unpleasantness and wretchedness that can be caused by norovirus.
The first indications are a sudden feeling of sickness usually followed by deep vomiting and possibly water diarrhoea. The vomiting can be wretched and in some cases almost continuous. Along with this there can be stomach cramps of course, a high temperature, headaches, aching limbs and of course a general feeling of illness.
The virus doesn’t really need any further diagnosis once you have the symptoms, although some doctors do take a stool sample to determine exactly the problem. But basically all stomach bugs including norovirus are treated in the same way.
In most cases, no medication is needed although paracetamol is sometimes used to help general fever and aches and pains. Anti-diarrhoeal medicines are not usually necessary. The main risk is from dehydration because the vomiting and diarrhoea can lead to a loss of water and electrolytes in the body. Mild dehydration can be treated by drinking plenty of fluids. If the dehydration develops into an inability to urinate, sunken eyes, cold hands and feet or a rapid heartbeat then medical intervention is required. More vulnerable adults may need rehydration drinks to replace lost electrolytes as well as fluids.
However, if the symptoms continue for more than two days, of they are exceptionally severe; if you have a high fever, or have underlying health problems, then it is important to see medical advice.
Generally the virus has to run its course and the body will usually recover from the infection after a couple of days.
Norovirus is extremely contagious. The virus can survive for several days on surfaces or objects that have been touched by an infected person. It is vital you wash your hands frequently, do not share towels or flannels, and disinfect key surfaces you may have touched.
NHS Information and Guidance on Norovirus
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