Norovirus - Tips to avoid winter vomiting disease

By Yours Health Expert


10 December 2008 16:20

Noroviruses are part of a group of viruses that are the most common cause of gastroenteritis (upset stomach) in the UK. Noroviruses are sometimes known as "small round structured viruses" (SRSV), or "Norwalk-like viruses". Noroviruses are also called the "winter vomiting disease" because people tend to get them during the winter months. However, they can occur at any time of the year.

How noroviruses are spread
It is estimated that the norovirus affects between 600,000 and one million people in the UK every year. Outbreaks of the illness are common, particularly within contained environments such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools. This is because the norovirus spreads very easily from person to person and the virus can survive for several days in a contaminated area.

The norovirus can be spread through contact with an infected person, through contact with surfaces or objects that are contaminated with the virus or by eating contaminated food or water.

There are many different types of norovirus, and it is possible for infection to occur several times. This is because after getting the illness immunity to the virus only lasts for 14 weeks. However, having recurring bouts of the norovirus may provide some protection from future infection.


The symptoms of a norovirus usually start between 24-48 hours after the initial infection, although they can start after as little as 12 hours. The first symptom is usually a sudden onset of nausea, which is followed by projectile vomiting and watery diarrhoea. Some people may also have:

  • a mild fever
  • headaches
  • stomach cramps, or
  • aching limbs.

In rare cases of the norovirus, seizures can occur. Symptoms normally last between 12-60 hours, although most people make a full recovery within one to two days. However, the diarrhoea may last slightly longer.

Treating norovirus

There is no specific treatment for a norovirus, apart from letting the condition run its course.

If you, or your child, have a norovirus, starving (not eating) will not speed up the recovery process any more than eating a light diet. You should start by eating foods that are easy to digest, such as soup, rice, pasta, and bread. Babies should be given their normal feed.

Drinking plenty of water will help to replace the fluids that are lost through diarrhoea and vomiting, and prevent dehydration. This is very important for young children and the elderly, who are particularly prone to dehydration and, in some cases, may need treatment in hospital if it occurs.

Anti-diarrhoea medicine is available from pharmacies over-the-counter (OTC) and may be used if you have a norovirus. However, these forms of medication are not suitable for children, and should not be used if you have a fever (a temperature that is over 38C or 100.4F). Check with your pharmacist if you are unsure.

Prevention tips

Although it is not always possible to prevent getting a norovirus, good hygiene can help to limit the spread of the infection.

There are some practical steps that you can follow to help stop a norovirus spreading, some of which are outlined below.

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, particularly after using the toilet, and before preparing food.
  • Disinfect any surfaces or objects that could be contaminated with a norovirus. It is best to use a bleach-based household cleaner. Always follow the instructions on the cleaning product.
  • Avoid eating raw, unwashed produce, and only eat oysters from a reliable source, because they have been known to carry the norovirus.
  • Flush away any infected faeces or vomit in the toilet. You should also keep the surrounding toilet area clean and hygienic.
  • Wash any clothing, or linens, which could have become contaminated with a norovirus. Washing with hot, soapy water will help to ensure that the virus is killed.


If you have a norovirus, you should avoid direct contact with others, and preparing food for others, until at least 48 hours after your symptoms have gone. This is because you may still be contagious, even though you no longer have sickness or diarrhoea.

You should avoid visiting hospitals if you have had the typical symptoms of norovirus in the past 48 hours. You may be asked to rearrange outpatient appointments if you have had recent symptoms. Norovirus infection is more serious and even more easily spread among people who are already ill.


This information supplied by NHS Choices
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