This year's outbreak of the dreaded winter vomiting bug will have escaped the attention of very few, and the risk of contracting this nasty virus isn't over yet. According to the Health Protection Agency, more than one million Brits have already been affected by the bug, also known as norovirus - a figure 72 per cent higher than at the same time last year.
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If you're worried about falling victim to this highly contagious little horror, here are some tips on how to avoid the lurgy and what to do should you catch the bug.
What is norovirus?
Norovirus is the most common cause of infectious stomach bugs (gastroenteritis) in the UK. Though rarely serious, it is extremely contagious and an unpleasant experience for the sufferer. However, most people recover within two or three days.
The symptoms of norovirus usually appear one or two days after infection, and often come on very quickly. Most people report sudden stomach cramps, followed by forceful vomiting and/or watery diarrhoea. A high temperature is also common, as are headaches and aching limbs.
Though most victims will recover without the need for treatment, dehydration can be a risk, particularly for the young or the elderly. Signs of severe dehydration include dry, wrinkled skin, sunken eyes, a rapid heartbeat, cold hands and feet and trouble urinating. If you or a loved one experience any of these symptoms, it is advised that you seek medical straight away.
If symptoms persist for more than three days, medical treatment may be necessary.
Unfortunately, the best way to beat the virus is to let it run its course. Paracetamol should take the edge off the fever, aches and pains, but the most important self-help tip is to drink plenty of fluids, more than the recommended 1.2 litres a day, in order to combat dehydration. Many find it hard to keep even fluids down with the bug, so try small, frequent sips. It's fine to drink water, squash or juice, but beware of giving fruit juices or fizzy drinks to under-5s as this can exacerbate diarrhoea.
Rehydration salts such as Diaoralyte, available from pharmacists, are excellent as they also provide salt and sugar to the body, but not all are suitable for children so do check with your pharmacist.
If you can face eating, stick to easy-to-digest foods such as soup, rice, pasta and bread. Continue feeding babies as normal.
Whatever you do, stay well away from work, school or other enclosed areas for at least 48 hours after the symptoms have gone, as the disease is quickly and easily spread.
What with work and school, it's not always possible to avoid norovirus, but there are measures you can take to help reduce the risk of contracting the bug.
Proper hygiene is absolutely essential, particularly during these winter months when the virus is more prevalent. Wash hands frequently with soap and water, especially after using the toilet or before preparing food, and avoid sharing towels or flannels.
A bleach-based household cleaner is best for disinfecting surfaces both at home and at work, and drying the area after cleaning will stop any remaining germs from multiplying in the damp. The NHS advises using disposable cloths or paper towels, or disinfecting cleaning items after each use.
If you or someone in your household falls victim to the bug, be sure to wash clothing or bedding that may have been contaminated on a hot wash to properly kill the germs, taking care to wash your hands after handling any potentially infected items.