No-one wants a vomiting bug as a Christmas present, but each winter many people unintentionally bring Norovirus into hospitals and care home when visiting loved ones.
With less than a week to go until Christmas Day, Public Health England and NHS England are urging the public to protect themselves and their loved ones against the winter vomiting bug, Norovirus, by taking simple steps to stop the spread of the virus, particularly to vulnerable people.
Norovirus is a highly contagious stomach bug that causes diarrhoea and vomiting. Most people will recover within a few days and can return to work or school. However if Norovirus is introduced unintentionally into care homes and hospitals by visitors it can cause chaos, leading to ward closures and making it difficult for health care workers to treat vulnerable patients at the busiest time of the year.
When a hospital ward is classed as ‘closed’ due to a Norovirus outbreak it means that the ward is closed to visitors and no further patients can be admitted until the outbreak is over – this can take weeks if the outbreak has affected a large number of patients. The same applies to care homes, and as the number of people visiting patients or residents rises during the Christmas period, the risk of well-meaning relatives passing on this nasty bug to their loved ones increases.
No-one wants norovirus for Christmas so follow these simple steps to stop the spread:
- N = No visits to hospitals, care homes and GP surgeries if you are suffering from symptoms of Norovirus - send someone else to visit loved ones until you are better
- O = Once you’ve been symptom-free for at least 48 hours, you’re safe to return to work, school or visit hospitals and care home
- R = Regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water, especially after using the toilet, and before eating or preparing food
- O = Only hand-washing will prevent spread of Norovirus - alcohol hand gels DON’T kill the virus
Fiona Neely, Consultant in Communicable Diseases for Public Health England South West, said: “If you have any suspicion that you have the symptoms of norovirus we would urge you to put off that visit to see a loved one in a care home or hospital this Christmas. Send someone else in your place, stay away until you have been free of symptoms for 48 hours – and give your relative the gift of a healthy happy Christmas day.
“Levels of norovirus are increasing in line with expected levels so far this winter but many schools, nurseries, hospitals and care homes across the south west are already reporting outbreaks.
“The symptoms of norovirus include suddenly feeling sick, projectile vomiting, and watery diarrhoea. Some people also have a slight fever, headaches, painful stomach cramps and aching limbs. The symptoms appear one to two days after you become infected and typically last for up to 2 or 3 days.”
Dr Caroline Gamlin, Medical Director for NHS England in the South West, said: “We know there will be real pressure on the NHS over the Christmas period, so if you have any vomiting, diarrhoea or respiratory symptoms please don’t visit relatives and friends in hospital or care homes. The impact can be huge if you spread norovirus or flu – not just on vulnerable patients who are already unwell but on the availability of beds for other people. So please do your bit this winter to help keep others safe.”