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Norovirus: What to do if you catch it and helping to stop the spread

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Norovirus, commonly known as the winter vomiting bug, is making its way through communities. It has been at lower levels than normal throughout the COVID-19 pandemic but as restrictions have eased, we have seen an increase in cases across all age groups.

Norovirus outbreaks are most common in settings where individuals have close contact such as hospitals, nursing homes or schools.

For most people this is an unpleasant, short-lived illness with a full recovery within 1-2 days without medical intervention.  But it can linger longer and have more of an impact in the very young, elderly or those with weakened immunity.

Stopping the spread

Norovirus is easily transmitted through contact with infected individuals and any surfaces or objects which have been contaminated. Symptoms include sudden onset of nausea, projectile vomiting and diarrhoea but can also include a high temperature, abdominal pain and aching limbs.

The incubation period of norovirus is 10-48 hours, which is the time between catching the virus and developing symptoms. Individuals can pass on norovirus or shed the virus onto surfaces and objects during this period but are most infectious while symptomatic.

To avoid catching norovirus or passing it on to others wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water. As a bare minimum, you need to do it following an episode of illness, after using the toilet and before eating or preparing food. Hand sanitisers do not work against norovirus.

Graphic showing four images. A bottle of water, some painkillers, hands being washed and a house. The text says that there is no specific cure for stomach bugs such as norovirus. Staying hydrated, taking paracetamol when needed, preventing the spread and staying home for two days after symptoms clear can help stop the spread.

If you’ve got norovirus, remember:

1) Norovirus cannot be treated with antibiotics. This is because antibiotics work to fight bacteria and not viruses.

2) Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. It occurs because your body is losing water and salts from vomiting and diarrhoea, so it is important to drink plenty of fluids to avoid this. Elderly individuals, young children and those with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop more severe symptoms which last longer and are therefore most at risk of becoming dehydrated and needing treatment.

3) Stay at home. Do not return to work or send children to school and do not visit your GP or hospital while symptomatic and until 48 hours after the symptoms have stopped. If you are concerned, talk to your GP by phone, contact NHS 111 or visit the NHS UK norovirus webpage.

4) Avoid cooking and helping prepare meals for others until 48 hours after symptoms have stopped, as norovirus can be spread through food when it is handled by people shedding norovirus.

5) Wash any contaminated clothing or bedding using detergent and at 60°C, and if possible, wear disposable gloves to handle contaminated items.

6) To disinfect surfaces, use bleach-based disinfectants.

Norovirus immunity is short lived and there is no cross-strain immunity, therefore it is possible to have multiple norovirus infections in a short period of time if you’re exposed to different strains.

Whilst norovirus spreads easily, catching it is not inevitable.

With the appropriate precautions it is possible to remain healthy whilst people at work or at home are ill. Practicing good hygiene and avoiding contact with others while infectious are at the core of protecting yourself and others from the spread of the virus.


Most babies have vomiting or diarrhoea at some point, and so parents will routinely deal with this sort of illness.

Many of these illnesses are caused by a virus called rotavirus. Most babies recover at home but, in a small number of cases, rotavirus infection can become serious, with babies getting dehydrated (losing body fluids) and possibly needing hospital treatment.

In England, almost all children will get rotavirus within the first 5 years of life.

Before the introduction of the vaccine in July 2013, around half of all gastroenteritis in children under 5 years old was caused by rotavirus and in England and Wales, about 1 out of 10 of those children (roughly 13,000 a year) were admitted to hospital.

How rotavirus is spread

Rotavirus can spread very easily and, once infected, babies can pass it on to others.

The virus can be spread through hand to mouth contact and can be picked up from contaminated surfaces such as toys, hands or dirty nappies. It can also be spread through the air by sneezing and coughing, though this is less common.

Washing hands and keeping surfaces clean can help reduce the spread of the virus but can never completely stop it.

Evidence shows that the most effective way to prevent babies catching rotavirus is to give them the rotavirus vaccination.

Timing of rotavirus vaccination

Two doses of the vaccine will be given with your baby’s other routine vaccinations. The first dose is given at 8 weeks of age and the second dose at 12 weeks. The 2 doses need to be given at least 4 weeks apart to get the best protection.

If your baby misses the first dose, they can have it up to 15 weeks old. If they miss the second dose, they can only have it up to 24 weeks old

Get more information on Norovirus here and on the rotavirus vaccine here.

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