Norovirus (winter vomiting bug)

Norovirus is the most common cause of infectious viral gastroenteritis in England and Wales, especially at this time of year. The illness is often known as ‘winter vomiting disease’ because the number of cases tends to increase during the winter months.

The symptoms of norovirus are vomiting, which is often sudden and “projectile”, diarrhoea and sometimes both. Some people may have a raised temperature, headaches and aching limbs.

Norovirus is highly contagious; someone with norovirus can pass it on to others through touching surfaces around them or coughing and sneezing. Because of this norovirus tends to spread rapidly, especially in environments where large numbers of people are in close contact, such as care homes, schools and hospitals.

Good hand hygiene is important to stop the spread of the virus. People are advised to wash their hands thoroughly using soap and water after using the toilet and before preparing food and eating.

Anyone who has symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea should stay away from work, school or nursery until at least 48 hours after the symptoms have stopped. Surfaces or objects that people with symptoms have had contact with should be disinfected. Clothes, bedding and towels used by people with symptoms should be washed separately.

Advice for avoiding norovirus includes:

  • Make sure you wash and dry your hands often and thoroughly, with soap and warm water. Good hand hygiene - whether you have norovirus or not - is important to reduce your risk of catching it – and other viruses around in the winter.
  • Don’t rely on alcohol hand gels alone, handwashing is very important.
  • Be especially careful to wash your hands after using the toilet or before touching food.

If you have vomiting and diarrhoea symptoms:

  • It is important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, especially in the very young or the elderly. Remember you need to drink more than unusual to replace fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Consult a pharmacist for advice on over-the-counter medicines to reduce any fever or aches and pains
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Stay away from work and keep children away from school until at least 48 hours after the symptoms have stopped. Don’t visit vulnerable family or friends, especially people in hospitals or care homes, to reduce the risk of passing the virus on.
  • There is no specific treatment for norovirus and seeing a doctor is not usually necessary. Don’t visit your GP or a hospital A&E department, to avoid passing the virus on to others. However, if you or your child has symptoms of severe dehydration, has bloody diarrhoea, your symptoms haven’t improved after a few days or you have a serious underlying health condition, telephone your GP or NHS 111 to get medical advice.

If you are living in the same household as someone who has symptoms:

  • Be careful when clearing up after someone who has been ill – wash your hands frequently.
  • Disinfect any surfaces or objects that could be contaminated with a household cleaning product.
  • Wash any items of clothing, bedding, or towels that could have been contaminated on a separate hot wash, to ensure the virus is killed.