How to Successfully Prevent Winter Vomiting - Norovirus
The Norovirus (aka winter vomiting) is an extremely unpleasant and contagious virus that causes gastroenteritis in 80% of the population. It can strike at any time of year but is most common in the winter months when people are run down and congregating in warm indoor areas such as hospitals, schools and places of work. Noro, whilst highly contagious, is not an airborne virus meaning you have to ingest it to get it. The most common way of catching it is touching a contaminated surface and eating/putting your hands to your mouth or ingesting contaminated food. You cannot catch it from being near someone who has it unless your face is in very close proximity to theirs as they are physically being sick.
Once infected you remain contagious for up to 2 weeks. Each time you go to the toilet you are shedding billions of viral particles. Unfortunately many people do not practice proper hygiene before handling food or after using the toilet and this is most commonly how it is spread. Personal hygiene is the number 1 way to avoid getting any of the nasty strains of this bug.
What are the Symptoms of the Norovirus?
The Norovirus will cause symptoms in 80% of the people infected with it. Once you are infected symptoms usually begin 40 minutes - 48 hours after infection. The incubation time is not as long as Salmonella meaning you will have a timeframe of when and where you may have caught it.
- Stomach cramping which may begin several days before vomiting and remain for several days after.
- A sudden onset of nausea.
- Vomiting or violent dry heaving.
- Diarrhoea or excessive soft foul-smelling stool.
- Fever and chills or hot flashes. "Flu-like symptoms"
- Loss of appetite.
- Aches in the joints/muscles caused by the heaving.
A lucky few may only suffer with a sudden onset of a stomach ache which lasts several days, some will feel very nauseous for 24 hours and some poor soldiers will become ill with a full-blown episode of Noro.
WASH. YOUR. HANDS.
Hand washing is the single most effective way of blocking the nasty Norovirus. It's as simple as this: wash your hands properly and you won't get it. If you've got it you haven't washed them enough.
The Norovirus (as stated in the introduction) is not an airborne virus and is spread through ingesting the virus particles. The truth is, if you get winter vomiting it means you've ingested someone else's vomit/faecal particles that contain it.
Wash your hands:
- Before handling, preparing, serving or eating food regardless of situation. This includes teabags and cutlery.
- Thoroughly after using the toilet no matter what for - REGARDLESS OF GENDER.
- Before touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
- Feeding your child or pet (many of our pets e.g. hamsters can catch and die from Noro)
- When you come home from being out anywhere public.
- Before you go to bed.
- Whenever you have the chance.
There is nothing worse than that one selfish person that wipes their bottom and doesn't wash their hands leaving the toilet with invisible fluid smears on the door handles to make someone else sick.
What Can I do to Prevent it?
Below are the very best ways to prevent getting the Norovirus.
- Wash your hands before eating, handling food, touching the nose/eyes/mouth and especially after using the toilet.
- Cook all food until piping hot right through and don't allow someone who has recently had the bug to serve/cook any food.
- Keep your outside clothes away from your bedding, home clothes or clean clothing.
- Wash all clothes thoroughly through a hot cycle. If your clothing can be bleached then do so.
- Bleach your toilet and your bathroom floor if you can. Bleach is the only thing that will kill the Norovirus. If someone in your family has the virus make sure you bleach the toilet each time they use it. If a surface can be bleached - do so.
- Clean your house regularly paying special attention to hard surfaces and the bathroom.
- Change your bedding at least once a week and wear fresh pyjamas especially after bathing.
- Don't share towels or other personal items with other people and always remember to give any bath mats a thorough washing.
- Keep antiviral spray, wipes or sanitiser on you at all times to use when you're out. At work clean your desk regularly and try not to share your belongings with anyone else where possible.
- Stay healthy with plenty of vitamin C, sleep and reduce stress levels to boost immunity.
- Clean your phone. If your mobile has been used in public it MUST be cleaned with anti-viral. Failing this anti-bacterial can help. Your phone will pick up endless amounts of nasty germs every day.
- Clean up after your pets regularly and don't allow them to sleep in your bed/ the furniture and avoid kissing them. Always wash your hands after petting any animal!
- Clean your computer keys regularly with anti-viral. They can harbour millions of germs!
Help! My Partner has Noro!
The first line of business is not to panic and stress yourself too much. If you don't live with your partner then your risk is cut down drastically, if you do then you should take all precautions labelled above.
- Avoid kissing your partner anywhere for a minimum of 7 days after all symptoms have completely stopped. 14 days would be better.
- Don't share food, cutlery or personal items with them.
- Have them stay home from school/work for at least 4 days after all symptoms have stopped - they are extremely contagious until day 5.
- Don't let them prepare your food.
- Try to avoid sleeping in the same bed as them or handling anything you are going to be handling without thoroughly washing their hands first.
As long as you are practicing excellent hygiene then you shouldn't have anything to worry about. Keep up your bleaching and more extensive and vigilant hygiene for a minimum of 14 days after all of their symptoms have stopped.
What About my Kids?
As an adult you are responsible for teaching your children to wash their hands and not put random stuff in their mouth. You just have to keep reminding them and if you are with them the majority of the time this job falls on your shoulders.
Get them in the habit of washing their hands when they come home from school and make sure they're washing their hands after they go to the toilet. Soap and warm water for twice you can say your ABC's.
Be frank with them. When I was a kid my grandmother used to tell me if I chewed on stuff I picked up I'd catch something nasty and become very sick, or my teeth would all fall out. This stopped me from ever biting something again. Tell your children if they put things in their mouth they will become very very sick. If they keep putting things in their mouth keep reminding them and take them off of them. If they're picking stuff up off of the floor make them wash their hands straight away. The more you enforce the habit the more they get used to it and will do it automatically.
If they still become sick make sure you handle everything immediately. Bleach all surfaces and don't hesitate to put bedding straight into the wash or bin it. Don't leave contaminated stuff around the house. Bleach or boil any fabrics, use powerful detergents and steam cleaners on stained rugs and make sure they are kept clean throughout. As long as you keep your face away from theirs, stand back when they're being sick and wash your hands every time you come into contact with anything they have, you should be fine.
The absolute way to ever prevent a stomach bug is to thoroughly wash your hands and keep them away from your mouth at all times/ Don't suck your fingers, bite your nails or handle food. If you're going to be opening lots of doors with your hands or handling a lot of things other people have used then wear some gloves. Gloves can drastically cut down your odds of catching a bug as long as you remove them before eating and follow the same rules with keeping them away from food/your mouth. You can entirely prevent becoming sick this year using these fully tested methods.
Always remember: Anti-bacterial won't kill the Norovirus. A virus has an entirely different structure and the layers cannot be punctured by anti-bacterial products.
Having a high immune system may help prevent the stomach bugs from attacking, but this alone won't do much. Your immune system gets rid of the virus by forcing it out. Keeping your body healthy along with good hygiene is great for preventing it.
If you're looking for tips about preventing nausea and helping your IBS then check out my other hub for more information.
Can the Norovirus be spread through clothing?
Unfortunately, yes, it can but the good news is it is not as likely as from surfaces such as door handles or computer keys. The Norovirus is more likely to be "shaken" from clothing or killed in the wash but it is important to remember good hygiene. Keep clothes you've worn outside away from clean clothing and bedding to prevent contamination. Clothing should be washed regularly.
Can you die from Noro?
Whilst the virus itself cannot kill you, it is possible to die from hydration or other complications. Vomiting and diarrhoea can lead to serious dehydration and hospitalisation and not being able to keep anything down can lead to rapid weight loss which is especially dangerous for those with a low body weight to begin with. Noro on its own causes gastroenteritis. Those most at risk of infection and complications are: the elderly, very young children and those with compromised immune systems e.g. being excessively run down or having HIV/ other immune suppressants.
How can I kill the Norovirus?
The only way to actually kill the Norovirus is with bleach. Whilst bleach can be dangerous, when used properly it is very useful. Bleach your toilet every day, if someone in your household gets the virus then bleach the toilet each and every time they use it. Bleach tiled floors and any other surfaces that can take it. Always thoroughly clean door handles. Do not bleach cutlery, but do put it in a very hot wash with plenty of detergent through your dishwasher. Clothing and bedding should be washed very regularly on the hottest wash they can take and hung in a clean space to air and dry. Washing your hands regularly with soap and water will rinse any particles from your skin and prevent you from catching it.
Is there a cure for this virus?
Unfortunately there is no current cure as there are so many different strains. Interestingly you only remain immune to the particular strain you caught for a couple of weeks after symptoms subside meaning you are 100% at risk again. There are hundreds of different strains. Treatment from a doctor is not normally required. Scientists are currently working on vaccines for the Norovirus.
Is Winter Vomiting the same as the Norovirus?
Usually yes it is. The Norovirus is present at all times of year but most easily spread during the winter months. Not everyone with sickness and diarrhoea will have Noro, they could have Salmonella, E-Coli, pregnant, regular Influenza, allergy to antibiotics, stress or even various other stomach bugs spread by their pets.
How Long do Symptoms last?
Generally 12-72 hours. The majority of stomach bugs have stopped within 24 hours, but some can last up to three days depending on the person and severity. If your symptoms have worsened over a few days or you are still being sick after 1 week you should contact a healthcare professional immediately. Some people are infected with no symptoms and other people have a full blown attack.
I get Noro regularly, why?!
There is likely a number of reasons why. You are probably making the same mistakes each time. Wash your hands very regularly and keep them well away from your mouth, nose and eyes. Consume plenty of Vitamin C, get enough sleep and reduce stress. Practice proper general hygiene, including with food. Do you have pets? dogs and cats are notorious for carrying Noro and other forms of stomach bugs. If you're worried speak to your doctor.
Someone in my house has Winter Vomiting HELP!!
Even if someone in your household gets it you can minimise your risk.
- Bleach the toilet each time they use it for up to 14 days after their symptoms have vanished.
- Don't share any towels, bedding or personal items with them and it's a good idea to store your toothbrush well away from theirs- use a different toothpaste tube too.
- Don't allow them to handle or prepare any food for up to 14 days after their symptoms vanish.
- Make sure you remind them to keep washing their hands!
- Wash their clothes in their own separate loads and don't put them in with other people's - especially underwear!
- Make sure they are changing their bedding and putting it straight into the machine to go through a very hot wash (if bedding is white then bleach it) to prevent it contaminating any surfaces or other clothes.
- Don't share the same bed as them.
- Try to thoroughly clean all door handles or leave all inside doors open. Door handles are one of the main ways the virus is spread and still count as a surface.
- If possible designate one bathroom to the sick person and do not allow anyone else to enter the room for up to 14 days after their symptoms have vanished - make sure they bleach it down after use! if this is not possible just use the bleaching technique and practice thorough hand washing.