Health matters

Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.
Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.
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AS part of our ongoing series of health columns, Julie Hirst, public health specialist for NHS Derbyshire County, including Buxton and the High Peak, looks at the winter vomiting bug norovirus.

Between 600,000 and 1 million people in the UK catch norovirus every year. You may have heard of it as the “winter vomiting bug” because the illness is more common in winter. However, the virus can be caught at any time of the year. NHS services, hospital ward closures and outbreaks in schools are among common problems caused by the winter illness.

Noroviruses are a group of viruses that are the most common cause of stomach bugs (gastroenteritis) in the UK. They are also known as small round structured viruses (SRSV) or Norwalk-like viruses. The stomach bug causes severe vomiting, diarrhoea and flu-like symptoms but is not usually dangerous, with most people making a full recovery within a couple of days.

If you have norovirus, the following steps should help ease your symptoms:

Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

Take paracetamol for any fever or aches and pains.

If you feel like eating, eat foods that are easy to digest.

Stay at home and don’t go to the doctor, because norovirus is contagious and there is nothing the doctor can do while you have it.

However, contact your GP to seek advice if your symptoms last longer than a few days or if you already have a serious illness.

Extra care should be taken to prevent babies and small children who are vomiting or have diarrhoea from dehydrating, by giving them plenty of fluids. Babies and young children can still drink milk.

Norovirus is highly infectious, so it is vital that we all make sure it does not spread to more vulnerable people – such as those with long-term health problems – as complications could develop.

The virus is easily spread by contact with an infected person, especially through their hands. You can also catch it through contaminated food or drink or by touching contaminated surfaces or objects.

The following measures should help prevent the virus from spreading further:

Wash your hands frequently.

Do not share towels and flannels.

Disinfect any surfaces that an infected person has touched.

Outbreaks in busy places such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools are common because the virus can survive for several days on surfaces or objects touched by an infected person. So let’s do all we can to protect others and stop this bug from spreading.