Public health chiefs have urged people to take steps to limit the spread of the winter vomiting bug norovirus after outbreaks of cases in recent weeks.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has warned that cases of the bug have been rising as people mix more, and “unusual or out-of-season increases” could be seen in the coming months.
The warning comes after a rise in cases in nurseries and care homes have been reported in England.
People are being urged to stay at 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 during the four weeks between the end of January and February, initially in educational settings and later in care homes.
Some 48% more outbreaks than would usually be expected were reported in nurseries and childcare facilities, while care home outbreaks rose from 24 in the week beginning 7 February to 40 in the following week.
Outbreaks in care homes are below what is expected in a pre-pandemic year, but the health agency said numbers are likely to rise in the coming weeks, and a rise in care homes often precedes a rise in hospitals.
Professor Saheer Gharbia, from the gastrointestinal pathogens and food safety directorate, UKHSA, said: “Norovirus, commonly known as the winter vomiting bug, has been at lower levels than normal throughout the pandemic but as people have begun to mix more, the numbers of outbreaks have started to increase again.
“Symptoms include sudden onset of nausea, projectile vomiting and diarrhoea but can also include a high temperature, abdominal pain and aching limbs.
“Stay at home if you are experiencing norovirus symptoms and do not return to work or send children to school or nursery until 48 hours after symptoms have cleared.
“Please avoid visiting elderly relatives if you are unwell – particularly if they are in a care home or hospital.
“As with Covid-19 and other infectious illnesses, hand washing is really important to help stop the spread of this bug, but remember, unlike for Covid-19 alcohol, gels do not kill off 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 which causes vomiting and diarrhoea.
The virus is easily transmitted through close contact with people who have been infected, or by touching contaminated surfaces.
It can also be spread by eating food that has been prepared or handled by someone with the bug.
While the virus can be very unpleasant, it usually passes in a couple of days.
What is the incubation period?
The onset of symptoms usually starts suddenly within 24 to 48 hours after contracting the bug, although they can appear as early as 12 hours after exposure in some cases.
What are the key symptoms?
The key symptoms of norovirus typically include:
- feeling sick (nausea)
- being sick (vomiting)
- a high temperature
- a headache
- aching arms and legs
How is it treated?
The best way to treat norovirus is to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration.
Symptoms will usually pass in around two to three days.
As the bug is highly contagious, it is advised that you stay at home until 48 hours after symptoms stop to prevent passing the bug on.
What precautions can I take?
PHE has urged people to take five simple precautions to help reduce the risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
- Staying at home until 48 hours after symptoms stop.
- Washing your hands frequently with soap. Alcohol gels do not kill norovirus.
- Making sure you thoroughly clean all surfaces after a person has been sick.
- Avoiding cooking and preparing meals for 48 hours after symptoms have stopped.
- Washing any clothing or bedding using detergent and a temperature of 60C.
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