Norovirus symptoms: what is winter sickness virus, treatment, incubation period – and is it contagious?

Norovirus, also known as winter vomiting virus, is highly contagious and causes vomiting and diarrhea

Public health chiefs have urged people to take action to limit the spread of the winter vomiting bug norovirus after surges in cases in recent weeks.

The UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) has warned that bug cases are increasing as people mix more, and ‘unusual or out of season increases’ could be seen in the coming months.

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People are urged to stay home and avoid visiting elderly relatives if they have symptoms to help prevent further spread.

Where have outbreaks been reported?

The UKHSA said the number of outbreaks increased in the four weeks between late January and February, initially in educational settings and later in care homes.

Some 48 per cent more outbreaks than would usually be expected were reported in crèches and childcare facilities, while care homes rose from 24 the week of February 7 to 40 the following week.

Outbreaks in care homes are lower than expected in a pre-pandemic year, but the health agency said numbers are expected to rise in the coming weeks, and an increase in care homes often precedes a increase in hospitals.

Professor Saheer Gharbia, of the Gastrointestinal Pathogens and Food Safety Directorate, UKHSA, said: “Norovirus, commonly known as winter vomiting virus, has been at lower than normal levels throughout the pandemic, but as people started to mix more, the number of outbreaks started to rise again.

“Symptoms include sudden onset of nausea, projectile vomiting and diarrhea, but may also include high temperature, abdominal pain and aching limbs.

“Stay home if you have symptoms of norovirus and do not return to work or send children to school or daycare until 48 hours after symptoms resolve.

“Please avoid visiting elderly relatives if you are unwell, particularly if they are in a nursing home or hospital.

“As with Covid-19 and other infectious diseases, hand washing is really important to help stop the spread of this bug, but remember, unlike Covid-19 alcohol, gels do not kill the virus. norovirus, so soap and water is best.”

What is norovirus and is it contagious?

Norovirus, commonly known as the winter vomiting bug, is a highly contagious stomach bug that causes vomiting and diarrhea.

The virus is easily transmitted through close contact with infected people or by touching contaminated surfaces.

It can also be spread by eating food that has been prepared or handled by an infected person.

Although the virus can be very unpleasant, it usually passes within a few days.

What is the incubation period?

The onset of symptoms usually begins suddenly within 24 to 48 hours of contracting the bug, although symptoms can appear as early as 12 hours after exposure in some cases.

What are the main symptoms?

The main symptoms of norovirus usually include:

  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • diarrhea
  • being sick (vomiting)
  • a high temperature
  • a headache
  • sore arms and legs

How is it treated?

The best way to treat norovirus is to get enough rest and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

Symptoms usually disappear in about two to three days.

As the virus is highly contagious, it is advisable to stay home for up to 48 hours after symptoms end to avoid transmitting the virus.

What precautions can I take?

PHE urged people to take five simple precautions to help reduce the risk of contracting and spreading the virus.

  • Stay home until 48 hours after symptoms end.
  • Wash hands frequently with soap. Alcohol gels do not kill noroviruses.
  • Be sure to thoroughly clean all surfaces after someone has been sick.
  • Avoid cooking and preparing meals for 48 hours after symptoms resolve.
  • Wash any clothing or bedding with detergent and a temperature of 60°C.

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