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It can take hold quickly and spread like wildfire. So what’s the best way of preventing norovirus?
The World Athletics Championships, London, 2017. 30 athletes and team members staying at Tower Hotel have fallen ill. The suspected culprit: an outbreak of norovirus. Eric Gillis abandons his marathon, just six miles from the finish line. Isaac Makwala is turned away from the 400m final, disqualified on medical grounds. Other teams affected include Germany, Canada, Ireland and Puerto Rica. Several days later, after laboratory tests 1, Public Health England confirms that norovirus was indeed the cause.
Evidently, outbreaks such as this can wreak havoc, even if contained quickly. So why does norovirus strike so rapidly? And how can we prevent catching and spreading it?
How dangerous is norovirus?
Norovirus can be fatal, though this is very rare: about 1 in 3,500 cases. By all accounts, it’s not pleasant, and it’s estimated that each of us will contract it at least 5 times throughout our lives 2. Clearly this is something we’d all prefer to avoid, so here are the best ways to prevent catching it in the first place.
What are the symptoms of norovirus?
The main symptoms of norovirus are:
- Suddenly feeling sick
- Projectile vomiting
- Watery diarrhoea
Other symptoms can include:
- Painful stomach cramps
- Aching limbs
Symptoms usually appear one to two days after becoming infected and in most cases last two to three days3.
How to prevent norovirus
Whilst it’s not always possible to protect yourself from catching it, here are the ways to give yourself the best chance of steering clear of the nasty bug:
- Wash your hands. We should be in the practice of washing our hands with soap, at 60 degrees Celsius, especially after using the toilet or before preparing or eating food. Although this feels too hot, it’s the required temperature to kill the virus2
- Don’t rely on alcohol hand gels to wash your hands, as they don’t kill the virus
- Use bleach-based cleaners to disinfect any contaminated surfaces or objects
- Wash any clothing or bedding on a hot wash to kill the virus
- Ensure you flush the toilet properly after use. Clean the toilet and the surrounding area properly if you have symptoms of the virus
- Only eat oysters from a very reliable source, as they can carry the virus
- If you do have the virus, stay at home, away from others, for at least 48 hours after the symptoms have passed. Don’t go to work or school in this time and especially avoid visiting anyone in hospital3.
Help, I think I caught norovirus
Although there isn’t a cure for norovirus, in most cases it will clear up on its own after a few days. In the meantime, there are several things you can do to ease the symptoms:
- Drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration. Water is best and children with the virus should steer clear of fruit juices or fizzy drinks, as these could make their diarrhoea worse
- Rest as much as possible
- Eat plain foods if you’re hungry - soup, rice, pasta and bread
- Take paracetamol for aches, pains or fever.
If you have symptoms of dehydration (dry mouth or dark urine), you can use rehydration sachets (available from pharmacies). Adults can sometimes take medicine to prevent diarrhoea or vomiting, but these aren’t suitable for everyone, so check with a GP or pharmacist first3.
If you think you have the virus, and wish to speak to your GP, it is advised that you call instead of visiting, to reduce the risk of spreading the infection.
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