Health: How you can help keep winter vomiting bug at bay

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The Health Protection Agency has issued advice on how to avoid norovirus and prevent the infection spreading as we approach the ‘winter vomiting’ season.

Norovirus infection is the most common cause of vomiting and diarrhoea in the UK, affecting 600,000 to one million people every year.

The symptoms are severe vomiting and or diarrhoea, but it is generally a short-lived illness from which the majority of people will recover in 12 to 60 hours without treatment other than rest and taking plenty of drinks to replace lost liquids.

The illness is highly infectious and great care needs to be taken to prevent its spread. When introduced to hospitals, residential care homes and other establishments where people live or work together in close proximity it can have major consequences such as the closure of hospital wards to new admissions, NHS staff going off work sick and patient appointments being postponed.

Dr Éamonn O’Moore, director of the Thames Valley Health Protection Unit, said: “Outbreaks of norovirus infection are common as winter approaches. However the impact on individuals and care settings, such as hospitals and residential care homes, can be limited to some extent, with simple actions.

“In hospitals, it is necessary to isolate individual cases and partial closures of wards are common as measures are taken to contain the infection and stop it spreading.

“There are also things that people can do to protect themselves and others from catching norovirus infection.”

The advice for people with symptoms is:

l Stay away from work, school or college until you have been free of symptoms for at least 48 hours.

l Do not handle or prepare food for other people until you have been symptom free for a minimum period of 48 hours.

l Do not visit friends or relatives in hospitals or residential care homes to avoid introducing the infection to environments where it could spread easily and put vulnerable people at greater risk.

l Do not attend social gatherings until you have been free of all symptoms for at least 48 hours.

l Do not visit your GP surgery or local A&E Unit. You will recover naturally without treatment, but it is important to rest and take plenty of drinks to replace lost fluids.

l Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly at all times, but particularly after toilet visits and before eating.

l Do not share towels with others. If possible, use paper towels after hand-washing and dispose of them immediately.

l Make sure that any surface that is contaminated by vomit or faeces is promptly and thoroughly disinfected after an episode of illness.

l If your symptoms persist or appear to be worsening, phone your family doctor or NHS Direct for advice.

l If you have bloody diarrhoea (blood in your stools), phone your doctor or NHS direct urgently for advice. Don’t delay

The NHS Direct number is 0845-4647.