Norovirus Q&A: Bah humBUG... soap is key defence against scourge of Christmas present

The winter vomiting bug Norovirus threatens to ruin the holiday for tens of thousands of people this year – but with a little care the chances of succumbing to it can be reduced. By Jeremy Laurance

Why should we be worried?

Almost one million people have fallen victim to the bug since the summer and it is infecting around 100,000 people a week according to latest figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA). These show there were 337 laboratory-confirmed cases in the week ending 9 December, an 83 per cent increase on the previous week. For every confirmed case it is estimated there are 288 unreported cases.  This is the last update from the HPA before Christmas – the next will be published on 28 December.

Does it matter?

Yes – unless you think being struck down with diarrhoea and vomiting is fun at Christmas. It has already caused widespread disruption in hospitals, schools and care homes and poses a threat anywhere where people congregate. There were 61 hospital outbreaks in the two weeks to 16 December. However it is generally a mild illness – most people recover in a couple of days but in the unwell or elderly it can be more serious.

Is there anything special about it?

Yes – it is highly contagious. If a member of your family falls ill there is a high risk others will follow. It is transmitted by touch, contact with contaminated surfaces or consuming contaminated food or water. It is one of the few infections you really can catch from a toilet seat. The virus can travel almost 10 feet in a vomiting episode.

What is the best defence?

Soap. Plenty of it, used often and liberally. Soap is more effective at destroying the virus than alcohol hand gels. If you suspect someone may be infected avoid shaking hands. When handwashing is not an option, avoid touching your face or lips and giving the virus a lift to its intended destination – your small intestine.

Is it only transmitted by touch?

No. Occasionally, aerosolised  particles of the virus may float in the air, raising the prospect of more distant infection. A girl’s football team in Canada was laid low by the bug after a team-mate developed the illness even though she had had no contact with them. The source was traced to a grocery bag containing crisps and cookies in the bathroom the girl had used. When the team touched the bag and ate the crisps they became infected.

How do you get rid of it?

With difficulty. Tests suggest it can hang around on hard surfaces for up to two weeks, unless cleaned and disinfected. Its survival ability has led to its being dubbed the “ideal infectious agent.” As few as 18 particles of virus can infect a new person and there may be as many as a thousand in a speck of vomit. Despite research efforts, there is no sign of a vaccine to prevent it in sight.

Can it be treated?

Yes – with time. Nothing else works. Take paracetamol if you have a fever or headache, drink plenty to keep yourself hydrated (not tea, coffee or alcohol, which makes you pee more), and let nature take its course.

News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

    £7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

    Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

    Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

    £26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003