When it’s good not to share

October saw outbreaks of the norovirus as far apart as Gloucestershire and Suffolk. What can we all do to protect our communities from this highly contagious and nasty bug? 

Darren Pitcher, one of Care UK’s lead quality development managers, looks at ways we can slow down norovirus – often known as the winter vomiting bug – and, in doing so, help protect the most vulnerable in our society from its effects.

Norovirus affects people of all ages; frail, older people or those with other serious health conditions are particularly susceptible. The symptoms are particularly nasty, including projectile vomiting and watery diarrhoea, which in turn can lead to dehydration and headaches.

Norovirus can occur in hospitals, schools and nursing homes because it can survive for several days on objects or surfaces contaminated by an infected person. This is why we have stringent hygiene procedures in our homes and health services as well as detailed plans in place should a resident, patient or team member contract the virus.

The very first step for anyone with suspected norovirus or any other stomach bug is to stay away from visiting friends or relatives in hospitals or care homes, where it can pass from one person to another very quickly.

Even before the symptoms begin, if you know you have been exposed to someone with the virus, consider not socialising or working with anyone who may be vulnerable. Symptoms can take 12 to 48 hours to develop and people may be infectious during this time, so it’s important to be very careful if you care for or visit someone who may be vulnerable.

If you, or any of your family, friends or colleagues have the virus it is important to follow a good hygiene regime until the risk has passed.

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and warm water. It is important to wash your hands to the wrist for at least 20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.
  • Don’t share towels and flannels.
  • Make sure surfaces touched by an infected person are thoroughly disinfected.
  • If you have more than one toilet, give one over to the exclusive use of the ill person.
  • Wash towels, sheets and clothing at a high temperature, or use a laundry disinfectant that you can find in your local supermarket.

People with norovirus may continue to be infectious for a short time after they no longer have the symptoms, so anyone who has had the bug should not prepare food or have direct contact with vulnerable other people for at least 48 hours after the symptoms have gone.

The NHS Choices website gives lots of advice for anyone with or living in the same location as someone with the virus. The most important thing is to keep hydrated, giving them more to drink than they might usually. Use special rehydration drinks made from sachets bought from pharmacies if they have signs of dehydration and avoid giving fizzy drinks or fruit juice to children as it can make their diarrhoea worse.

If they feel like eating, give them plain foods, such as soup, rice, pasta and bread. Give suitable paracetamol for any fever or aches and pains and ensure they get plenty of rest. Leave at least 48 hours after being clear of all symptoms before returning to work or usual day to day activities.