What is norovirus, how does it spread and how long is the incubation period?

Cases of ‘winter vomiting bug’ on the rise after Covid-19 social restrictions relaxed, UKHSA warns

Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 30 March 2022 13:33
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<p>Norovirus seen under a microscope </p>

Norovirus seen under a microscope

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has warned that norovirus cases more than doubled in England in the second week of March, the winter vomiting bug spreading through nurseries, schools and care homes for the elderly.

UKHSA said the increase was primarily down to increased outbreaks in educational settings, which accounted for 54 per cent of cases, and care homes, which accounted for 38 per cent.

The body warned the public to take precautions to limit the spread of the disease, including by washing their hands with soap and water rather than antibacterial gels, and to take particular care to shield the vulnerable from infection.

It suggested that the rise had come in the wake of the relaxation of Covid-19 social distancing rules and warned of a potential “unusual or out-of-season” spike in cases in the coming weeks.

“Norovirus 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,” said Professor Saheer Gharbia, gastrointestinal pathogens and food safety directorate at UKHSA.

With that in mind, here is everything you need to know about this unpleasant but relatively short-lived sickness.

How does it spread?

Norovirus is highly contagious so you can catch it from coming into contact with someone who already has the disease – often a child who has contracted it from one of their playmates – by touching surfaces or objects that have come into contact with it or by eating food or drinking water that has been handled by someone who has it.

A contagious person sheds billions of norovirus particles that cannot be seen without a microscope, only a few of which are needed to make other people sick.

What are the symptoms?

There are six key norovirus symptoms to look out for, according to Professor Gharbia.

These are: nausea, projectile vomiting, diarrhoea, high temperature, excruciating abdominal pain and aching limbs.

How long is the incubation period?

Norovirus symptoms usually begin to manifest within one to two days of being infected, according to the NHS.

However, the virus usually passes quickly, meaning you are unlikely to be ill for more than two to three days in most instances.

That said, the US Centres for Disease Control warns that some studies have shown that you can still spread norovirus for two weeks or more after you feel better.

How is it treated?

The NHS advises that norovirus cases can be cared for at home and that sufferers should stay off school or work and not visit care homes or hospitals, other than in cases of emergency, to limit the risk of passing the contagion on to others.

Sufferers are advised to only return to communal settings 48 after their symptoms have cleared and to rest and drink plenty of liquids until the condition passes.

Cleaning potentially contaminated surfaces with bleach-based detergents and hot water is also strongly advised.

Commonly used household toilets, taps, telephones, door handles and kitchen surfaces should all be disinfected thoroughly while wearing gloves and clothes and bedding should ideally be washed at 60C to kill the virus.

Those seeking more information are advised to go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111.

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