With the colder part of the year approaching, now is the time to look at one of the most common viruses in the UK – Norovirus. Sometimes referred to as the ‘winter vomiting disease’, norovirus is an illness that typically sweeps across the UK every year. As such, you’re undoubtedly familiar with norovirus already, but it is always a good idea to learn more about how to curtail the spread of this virus, what the symptoms are and how to treat those who contract it.
A perennial problem
Norovirus is one of the most common viruses in the world. In fact, it’s thought that one in every five cases of acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines) is caused by norovirus, with 685 million cases of the virus recorded around the globe each year.1 In the UK, it’s thought to affect between 600,000 and 1 million people per year, with cases picking up in the autumn and peaking in January.2 That being said, norovirus transmission can happen at any time of year, so it’s important that everyone is aware of how to prevent the spread of the disease as much as possible.
Easily spread, easily caught
One reason why norovirus is such a concern is that it spreads so effortlessly. Individuals can contract norovirus by being in close contact with someone who is infected.3
The virus is also carried in respiratory droplets that are expelled when an infected individual coughs, sneezes or speaks, and these can settle on surfaces. If someone touches an infected surface and then touches their mouth, the virus can enter their body this way. The virus can survive on most surfaces for up to two weeks, making it easy to transmit if surfaces aren’t cleaned regularly.4
Individuals can also contract norovirus if they eat any food that has been prepared or handled by someone with the virus, who has not washed their hands.
Signs, symptoms and consequences
The main symptoms of norovirus are nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. In some cases, these symptoms can be accompanied by a high temperature, a headache and aching limbs. Symptoms tend to begin a day or two after infection, and usually last two to three days.5
Luckily, norovirus tends to be quite a mild illness, and although the symptoms are unpleasant most people will make a full recovery without treatment. However, the impact the virus has cannot be understated, and it’s thought to cost the UK £1.6 billion and cause at least 50 deaths each year – usually small children or those with compromised immune systems.6
Prevention is key
One of the best defences against the spread of norovirus is practising good hand hygiene. Washing hands with soap and hot water is an effective way to destroy the virus and prevent it from transferring to surfaces where it could infect other people. It is worth remembering, however, that hand sanitisers and other alcohol hand gels are not effective against norovirus, and therefore handwashing is the gold standard in prevention.7
1 Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Norovirus Worldwide. Link: https://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/trends-outbreaks/worldwide.html#:~:text=Global%20Trends,an%20estimated%20685%20million%20cases. [Last accessed August 22].
2 Haringey London. Infectious Diseases. Link: https://www.haringey.gov.uk/social-care-and-health/health/public-health/infectious-diseases#:~:text=Norovirus%2C%20also%20called%20’winter%20vomiting,the%20United%20Kingdom%20every%20year. [Last accessed August 22].
3 NHS. Norovirus (Vomiting Bug) Link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/norovirus/ [Last accessed August 22].
4 University of Minnesota Extension. Norovirus Step-By-Step Clean Up of Vomit and Diarrhoea. Link: https://extension.umn.edu/sanitation-and-illness/norovirus-step-step-clean-vomit-and-diarrhea#:~:text=Norovirus%20is%20spread%20through%20person,remove%20and%20destroy%20the%20virus. [Last accessed August 22].
5 NHS. Norovirus (Vomiting Bug) Link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/norovirus/ [Last accessed August 22].
6 Food Safety Network. Norovirus Causes Greatest Burden In UK Pathogen Ranking. Link: https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2021/12/norovirus-causes-greatest-burden-in-uk-pathogen-ranking/#:~:text=There%20are%20nearly%20400%2C000%20norovirus,of%20Salmonella%20with%2033%20deaths. [Last accessed August 22].
7 NHS. Norovirus (Vomiting Bug) Link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/norovirus/ [Last accessed August 22].