Norovirus

(This may also be referred to as Norwalk virus, small round structured virus, winter vomiting disease or gastric flu). 

 What is Norovirus?

It is the "bug" that is the most common cause of vomiting and diarrhoea in the UK. You may have heard about schools, cruise ships and hotels which have had problems caused by the virus. It only affects humans.

What does it cause?

If you have Norovirus, you will usually have sudden vomiting (which can be quite violent). This can be accompanied by frequent watery stools. Some people just feel nauseated, a few just have diarrhoea. People with Norovirus usually have flu-like symptoms such as tiredness, shakes, headache and muscle aches.

How long will I feel unwell?

The illness usually lasts for 2 - 3 days, and although unpleasant, is rarely fatal. People can pass the virus to others for at least 48 hours after their diarrhoea or vomiting has stopped (even if they feel well in themselves).

How does it spread?

It is caused by a virus (like the common cold) and spreads very easily. It can be passed from one person to another by:

  • hands that are not washed after using the toilet
  • someone who vomits near you
  • touching a surface that has the virus on it
  • food such as salads or shellfish

Why is it a problem in hospital?

Hospitals have large numbers of people gathered together - many of whom are already unwell. If patients or their visitors come to the hospital when they have diarrhoea and vomiting, they can spread the infection to these vulnerable patients (extending their hospital stay).

 How will this affect my hospital treatment?

 In hospitals, patients with diarrhoea and vomiting may be cared for in a separate bay or room. These people can be discharged to their own homes, but transfer to other wards or care facilities can cause the illness to spread to other frail, unwell people. Transfer to these areas will be delayed until 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea or vomiting.

How can I protect myself from the virus?

Try to keep away from people who have these symptoms.  (If a person with Norovirus vomits near you millions of virus particles are released into the air - making it very likely that you could become infected).

Most infections are passed from one person to another via hands, so the most important thing you can do is to clean your hands after using the toilet, or if you come into contact with someone who has been sick. You can use either soap and water or the alcohol hand rub.

Bleach should be used to disinfect toilets, sinks and surfaces.  Keep all surfaces (e.g. locker and table) free from clutter, fruit and other foods e.g. biscuits.

Is there any treatment?

As this is caused by a virus, antibiotics will be of no benefit. It is a good idea to try to drink plain water as soon as you feel able to - this will help to prevent dehydration.

If I have Norovirus, can my family visit me?

As it is so easy to catch, visitors should be limited to your immediate family members or partner. Children or very frail elderly relatives would be advised to wait until you feel better (48 hours after the last diarrhoea or vomiting).

If your family members have had vomiting or diarrhoea, they should wait until 48 hours after their diarrhoea and vomiting is better, before visiting you in the hospital.

Please ask the nurse in charge of your ward if you have any further questions.