Managing Winter pressures and Norovirus by Theresa Shryane

Hello, I am one of the Health Protection Nurse Practitioners working in the Greater Manchester Health Protection team in Public Health England North West.

Health protection covers communicable disease surveillance/control, emergency preparedness, resilience and response, and environmental public health and at this time of year we see an increase in the “winter vomiting bug” Norovirus even though it can be caught all year round.

The symptoms of norovirus are very distinctive:

  • suddenly feeling sick
  • projectile vomiting
  • watery diarrhoea

Some people also have a slight fever, headaches, stomach cramps and aching limbs. The symptoms appear one to two days after you become infected and can be over in 24 hours or last up to two or three days. If you experience these symptoms, the best thing to do is to stay at home. There's no cure for norovirus, so you have to let it run its course. NHS Choices have information and advice for how to take care of yourself.

From a health protection and public health perspective, it’s really important that you remain off work or keep your children off school or nursery until you have been free of any symptoms for 48hours. Once symptoms stop, people feel completely recovered and may not want to stay off work, but your colleagues will thank you believe me.

You will remain infectious to others with norovirus for 48hours after your symptoms stop, and it spreads very easily. Returning to work gives the potential of the virus spreading to your colleagues and there being an outbreak with everyone in the workplace becoming infected. The same is possible with children returning to school with pupils and staff then becoming infected.

One of the biggest pressures for the acute hospitals in winter is Norovirus. Care homes for the elderly also suffer with many cases and outbreaks and this vulnerable group are at a greater risk of becoming dehydrated and requiring hospital admission. Taking the norovirus into hospitals may then result in wards being closed to admissions due to outbreaks.  And holds up discharge from hospital back into the care home, blocking hospital beds.

If you become a victim of the dreaded Norovirus this winter, please don’t visit relatives either at home, in care homes or hospitals whilst you are recovering. Please stay of work and this is especially important if you work with vulnerable people or have a role providing care to others.

Finally, to try and prevent spread within the home and to protect yourself, always wash your hands after using the toilet and before preparing food, using soap and water. Don't rely on alcohol hand gels, as they do not kill the virus. Disinfect any surfaces or objects that could be contaminated within the home, using a bleach-based household cleaner. Wash any items of clothing or bedding that could have become contaminated separately on a hot wash to ensure the virus is killed and don't share towels and flannels in the family home if members are unwell.

Theresa Shryane, Health Protection Nurse, Greater Manchester Health Protection Team, Public Health England

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