How do I avoid the norovirus?
You are worried about catching norovirus and for good reason. The NHS estimates that up to a million people in the UK may become ill from it in any given year. Despite its more colloquial common name – the winter vomiting bug – norovirus can occur at any time of year, though it does occur more often in winter.
News media often report on outbreaks of norovirus in a particular school, hospital, nursing home or on a cruise ship, where there are large groups of people in close contact – this is because the virus spreads quickly. Norovirus spreads through the vomit and faeces of infected people. The ways in which the virus can spread are by:
- Eating or drinking foods or liquids that have been contaminated with norovirus
- Touching objects or surfaces contaminated with norovirus – then placing your hand or fingers near your mouth
- Coming into contact with a person infected with norovirus, such as sharing eating utensils or when caring for an ill person.
What can you do to avoid the unpleasant illness that causes upset stomach (gastroenteritis) with vomiting and diarrhoea?
There are no vaccines to avoid getting norovirus, but as it spreads through contact with the virus, you can reduce your risks of contracting the virus by practising good hygiene. Public Health England and the NHS both recommend:
- Before preparing food, wash your hands well with soap and warm water
- After using the toilet or changing a nappy, wash your hands well with soap and water
- Always flush away any faeces or vomit in the toilet
- Clean up any vomit and disinfect the surrounding area
- Clean surfaces with a bleach-based household cleaner, especially around the toilet area and the toilet itself
- Wash any clothing or bedding that may be contaminated separately in hot water – to kill germs household linen should be washed at 60°C or at 40°C if using a bleach-based laundry product
- Do not share flannels or towels
- Avoid eating raw unwashed produce
- Only eat oysters if from a reliable source
Raw, or lightly cooked, shellfish have been known to infect at least one person with norovirus, and a 2011 Food Standards Agency (FSA) study found that 76% of oysters from UK waters tested positive for norovirus, though about two thirds of the samples had low levels. For these reasons the FSA recommends that the elderly, very young children and pregnant women should avoid eating raw or lightly cooked shellfish.
When washing your hands, make sure you do so properly, using warm water (hot isn't necessary – you're washing away the virus, not killing it) and lathering with soap. Wash for at least 20 seconds, ensuring you wash the tops of your hands including around the knuckles and fingernails, then dry for at least 20 seconds using a clean towel or paper towel.
Avoid spreading the norovirus
If you do become ill with norovirus, you can help prevent spreading it by following the advice above for practising good hygiene, and by avoiding contact with others for 48 hours after symptoms disappear as well as avoiding the preparation of food for others.