Norovirus symptoms: Six signs you’ve caught the winter vomiting bug outbreak

Norovirus is a stomach bug that causes vomiting and diarrhoea, and while it can occur any time of year, it tends to be more common in the winter months. It’s the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis (stomach bug) outbreaks worldwide, with around 600,000 to one million people getting norovirus every year.


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Already outbreaks of norovirus have been reported in the UK – the most recent outbreak being at Stevenage’s Lister Hospital.

Other outbreaks have occurred in Bristol’s Southmead Hospital, a primary school in Carnoforth, Lancashire, Cannock Chase Hospital in Stoke on Trent and George Elliot Hospital in Coventry.

So what are the symptoms of norovirus to look out for?

The main symptoms of the bug are listed by the NHS as:

  • Feeling sick (nausea)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Being sick (vomiting)

A person may also experience:

  • A high temperature of 38C or above
  • A headache
  • Aching arms and legs

Symptoms tend to start suddenly within one to two days of being infected.

How is norovirus spread?

Norovirus is spread a number of ways according to medical doctor Dr Daniel Quemby.

It can be spread through:

  • Contact with an infected person
  • Consuming food or water contaminated with the virus
  • Contact with surfaces or objects contaminated with virus
  • Swallowing the virus in the air after someone has vomited, as the virus can become airborne for a while in this instance
  • Consuming raw or undercooked food (particularly shellfish which can be contaminated with raw sewage)

Dr Quemby advised: “Outbreaks are more common where people are confined in close proximity to each other, such as in nurseries, schools, care homes, hospitals and cruise ships.

“These outbreaks tend to occur more in the winter months when we are shut in doors with the heating on, poor ventilation and our immune systems may be reduced.”

So why does norovirus spread more in winter/colder months?

According to Dr Quemby, norovirus tends to occur more in winter because people are indoors, in closer proximity with each other which makes it easier for the virus to spread person to person.

He added: “Also, in the winter out immune system may be weaker.”


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How can you prevent catching norovirus?

Norovirus can’t always be avoided, but good hygiene can help to prevent the virus spreading.

Dr Quemby’s tips for avoiding getting the illness are:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the toilet and before handling or eating food. Soap and water is much more effective against these viruses than alcohol gel.
  • Avoid visiting someone who is suffering from gastroenteritis, and if you can’t, make sure to wash your hands with soap and water before you leave their house.

If you have norovirus you should avoid spreading it to others by:

  • Avoiding direct contact with other people until at least 48 hours after your symptoms have gone4. You may still be contagious, even though you no longer have sickness or diarrhoea.
  • Flush away any infected faeces or vomit in the toilet and clean the surrounding toilet area at home.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces in bathrooms, kitchens and other areas that may be contaminated. Bleach-based household cleaners are most effective.
  • Do not share towels and flannels with others.
  • Wash any clothing or bedding that could have become contaminated with the virus separately from uncontaminated items, using a hot wash to ensure the virus is killed.
  • Avoid visiting hospitals if you have had the typical symptoms of viral gastroenteritis in the past 72 hours. Norovirus is more serious and even more easily spread among people who are already ill.
  • Avoid contaminating food by practicing good food hygiene – wash your hands after visiting the bathroom and before cooking, keep kitchen surfaces clean and ensure food is prepared properly and not cross-contaminated before cooking. Chopping boards are a breeding ground for germs.

How long does norovirus last and how can your treat it?

Norovirus usually goes away in about two days – during this time symptoms are usually contagious.

While it can help to rehydrate, water alone is not always enough.

Dr Quemby advised: “While it can help you to rehydrate, it does not replace the essential salts lost through diarrhoea. Take an oral rehydration therapy to replace lost salts to help your body rehydrate and recover faster.”

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