How to Avoid The Winter Norovirus Sickness Bug

According to figures released by the NHS, the number of beds taken over by patients suffering from the norovirus sickness bug has more than doubled in a week. Data for England, which came from the Department of Health reveals that the average number of beds closed per day rose from 720 to 1,545 between December 11 and December 18, with beds closing due to diarrhoea and vomiting or norovirus-like symptoms. In an attempt to halt the progress of the virus spreading between patients, wards were closed in certain NHS hospitals. The problem with the norovirus sickness bug is that it is highly contagious and can easily be transmitted through person-to-person contact, or contamination of food prepared by a person who is currently ill or has been recently ill and didn’t wash their hands appropriately. It can spread very quickly when it is exposed in a closed environment such as a school, hospital, work place or care home.

Symptoms include headaches, a high temperature, sudden vomiting, diarrhoea or both and stomach cramps. Typically the bug usually goes away within a few days. You can get the norovirus at any time of the year but it is more common to see it around the colder months of October through to April. This is because we spend more time indoors with the doors and windows closed and the virus can spread more easily amongst us. However, the key to preventing the norovirus from spreading is simple, health experts say. Just practice good personal hygiene, observe appropriate food-handling procedures and stay home if you are ill. Dr. Kirk Smith, who heads the foodborne disease unit at Minnesota Department of Health says, “All people need to do is remember to wash their hands adequately. Wash your hands – thoroughly and carefully with soap and water – after using the toilet, before consuming food, and before preparing food for yourself or others. If everybody did that, we could prevent a majority of the illness caused by these viruses.”

One difficulty in combating norovirus lies with people mistaking it with other things. Typically, the public often refers to this type of illness as ‘stomach flu’, which then gets shortened to ‘flu’. This unfortunately causes much confusion, because norovirus is a completely different virus than influenza and causes a different illness, Smith comments. “Influenza is primarily a respiratory illness, characterized by symptoms like high fever, body aches, sneezing, a runny nose or a sore throat,” he said. “The confusion caused by the “stomach flu” terminology prevents people from recognizing that illness such as that caused by norovirus often comes from food, and can be passed on to others through food,” he added.

To prevent the spread of noroviruses you should:

  • Wash your hands after using the toilet

  • Wash your hands before handling food, beverages and ice

  • Wash your hands before eating

  • Excuse yourself from food preparation duties if you have diarrhoea and/or vomiting

  • Discard foods that were handled or prepared by someone with diarrhoea and/or vomiting

  • Promptly clean and disinfect any surfaces that become soiled with vomit or stool

  • Stay home if you are ill

It is also important to recognise that people are still able to spread the virus for up to several days after they get over a norovirus infection. Smith concluded that. “People who have been ill should refrain from preparing food – commercially or for their own families – for an additional 72 hours after they recover.”

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