13 December 2012
This winter is set to be one of the worst for norovirus in the UK, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has warned.
The agency revealed that the number of cases of norovirus for December 2012 is up by an astonishing 72 per cent compared to last year's figures.
Norovirus, which is commonly referred to as the winter vomiting bug, is the most common stomach infection of its kind in the UK, and affects people of all ages.
It is a highly contagious virus, which is spread when an infected person comes in to contact with someone else, and tends to happen through their hands. It is usually spread swiftly in closed environments, and is therefore prevalent in hospitals, schools and care homes.
John Harris, an expert in norovirus at the HPA, advised people to be vigilant with their hygiene. If someone notices that their symptoms appear suggestive of having caught norovirus, they should refrain from visiting friends or relatives, especially in hospitals or care homes.
"Norovirus infection in hospitals is very disruptive as it can lead to ward closures," he went on to say.
"Having a norovirus infection is very unpleasant but it is short-lived and most people will fully recover in a couple of days. Make sure that you or anyone you are caring for takes plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration."
He concluded by saying that over-the-counter medicines can also be useful in helping to reduce headaches, as well as other pains.
Symptoms of norovirus include suddenly feeling sick, which is usually followed by harsh vomiting and watery diarrhoea. Other warning signs include a high temperature, stomach cramps, headaches and aching limbs.
One of the things that people need to be aware of is that norovirus can lead to dehydration, and while this is not usually dangerous, can exacerbate other conditions. The NHS states that the first sign is severe thirst, as well as dizziness, tiredness and a dry mouth.
"The norovirus season is always completely unpredictable as it peaks and falls over several months – usually October to April," said Dr Bob Adak, head of the gastrointestinal diseases department at the HPA, earlier this month.
"However, one thing we do know is that every year we will see a large amount of norovirus activity because it is highly contagious."
Other advice for people suspected of having norovirus is to refrain from visiting the GP or the local Accident & Emergency Unit. It is an illness that will pass, experts explain, and does not require any treatment.
That said, it is recommended that people drink lots of water, as Mr Harris has observed, which will help people replace lost fluids.
"Try to eat foods that are easy to digest, such as soup, rice, pasta and bread. Babies should continue with their normal feeds," the NHS advises.
"To reduce the risk of passing the virus on to others, wash your hands regularly and stay at home until you are clear of symptoms for 48 hours."
Posted by Philip Briggs
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