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HPA North West advises public how to avoid “winter vomiting” illness

Date published: 16 November 2012

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) North West today issued advice on how to avoid the vomiting illness norovirus that traditionally becomes much more prevalent in the winter months.

Norovirus infection is the most common cause of vomiting and diarrhoea in the UK, affecting an estimated 600,000 to one million people every year. The symptoms are severe vomiting and or diarrhoea. It is generally a short-lived illness from which the majority of people recover in 12 to 60 hours without treatment other than rest and taking plenty of drinks to replace lost liquids.

The illness is highly infectious and great care needs to be taken to prevent its spread. When introduced to hospitals, residential care homes and other establishments where people live or work closely together it can have major consequences such as the closure of hospital wards to new admissions, NHS staff going off work sick and patient appointments being postponed.

Dr. Ken Lamden, NW regional HPA lead for gastrointestinal illness said: “It isn’t easy to prevent norovirus infection spreading when it gets into hospitals, residential care homes and schools. All too often it leads to the closure of hospital wards to new admissions, NHS staff going off work sick and patient appointments being postponed. The impact on individuals and institutions can be limited with simple actions.

“People with the infection should stay at home, ensure that their personal hygiene is good, particularly hand-washing and avoid contact with others where possible.

“However, the elderly and very young can sometimes get more severe infection or become dehydrated. If that should be the case, they or their family, friends or the people who care for them should telephone their GP service or ask NHS Direct for advice.”

The advice for people with symptoms is:

• Stay away from work, school or college until you have been free of symptoms for at least 48 hours.
• Do not handle or prepare food for other people until you have been symptom free for a minimum period of 48 hours.
• Do not visit friends or relatives in hospitals or residential care homes to avoid introducing the infection to environments where it could spread easily and put vulnerable people at greater risk.
• Do not attend social gatherings until you have been free of all symptoms for at least 48 hours.
• Do not visit your GP surgery or local A&E Unit. You will recover naturally without treatment, but it is important to rest and take plenty of drinks to replace lost fluids.
• Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly at all times, but particularly after toilet visits and before eating.
• Do not share towels with others. If possible, use paper towels after hand-washing and dispose of them immediately.
• Make sure that any surface that is contaminated by vomit or faeces is promptly and thoroughly disinfected after an episode of illness.
• If your symptoms persist or appear to be worsening, phone your family doctor or NHS Direct for advice.
• If you have bloody diarrhea (blood in your stools), phone your doctor or NHS direct urgently for advice. Don’t delay

The NHS Direct number is 0845-4647.

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