Norovirus: What are the symptoms of the winter vomiting bug and how do you avoid it?

The group of viruses is the most common cause of stomach bugs in the UK

If the cold weather and dark evenings weren’t enough, then this season has another downside: the winter vomiting bug.

Norovirus is a strain of viruses that causes stomach bugs, or gastroenteritis - and health experts have warned that there have been a lot of cases in recent weeks.

There were 18 outbreaks in hospitals last month, Public Health England (PHE) said. All but one of these resulted in ward closures to prevent the highly contagious virus from spreading.

There is not treatment for norovirus, but most people will recover within a  few days.

However, for patients already ill in hospital, the bug can cause further health complications, meaning it is vital that people who suspect they have norovirus do not visit hospital or their GP.

John Harris, a norovirus expert for PHE, said: "October usually marks the start of the norovirus season and the bulk of cases will occur between now and April next year.

"No two norovirus seasons are the same and there is no way of predicting how busy a season will be.

"What we do know is that many people will be affected across the country and they will probably feel very unwell for a couple of days but will get better."

Here’s everything you need to know:  

What is norovirus?
Norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting bug, is the most common stomach bug in the UK. It can affect people of all ages and is highly contagious.

What are the symptoms?
The first sign of norovirus tends to be a sudden feeling of sickness, followed by forceful vomiting and watery diarrhoea. Other symptoms include a raised temperature, headaches, stomach cramps and aching arms and legs.

How is it spread?
Very easily – you can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces or objects. If a person who has the virus doesn’t wash their hands before handling food, they can pass it onto others. 

In public places and environments such as schools, hospitals and nursing homes it spreads quickly because the virus can survive for several days.


What should I do if I catch it?
There is no specific treatment for norovirus, but you can take steps to ease your symptoms. Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated and take paracetamol for aches and pains.

It is important to stay at home because the virus is highly contagious and your GP will not be able to treat it. During this time you should wash your hands frequently, avoid sharing towels and flannels and disinfect surfaces and objects that could be contaminated. 

However, you should contact your doctor if your symptoms last for more than few days or if you already have a serious illness.

Are there complications?
Most people recover within a few days. The main risk is becoming dehydrated so it’s important to drink lots of water to replace what your body loses from vomiting and diarrhoea. The young and elderly are most at risk of becoming dehydrated.

Severe dehydration can lead to low blood pressure and kidney failure and, in some cases, can be fatal.  It’s vital to seek medical help if you experience symptoms including dry, wrinkled skin, an inability to urinate, a rapid heartbeat or cold hands and feet.

For more information visit the NHS website or Public Health England