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Experts warn of winter vomiting bug norovirus as COVID-19 restrictions lift

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As COVID-19 limitations are eased, public health experts are warning of an increase of the vomiting bug norovirus.

The norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhoea, is most prevalent during the winter months.

However, the bug’s prevalence has lately increased in England.

Public Health England (PHE) has warned:

It is possible that unusual or out-of-season increases could be seen in the coming months following further easing of COVID-19 control measures.

According to PHE, outbreaks have been focused in nursery and childcare institutions, with much more than anticipated over the summer months.

There have been 154 outbreaks reported in the last five weeks, compared to an average of 53 outbreaks in the preceding five years.

According to PHE, although small children have been impacted, there has also been an increase in all age groups.

The Deputy Head of the National Infection Service of PHE, Saheer Gharbia, said:

Norovirus, commonly known as the winter vomiting bug, has been at lower levels than normal throughout the pandemic with less opportunity to spread between people in the community, but as restrictions have eased we have seen an increase in cases across all age groups.

Symptoms include sudden onset of nausea, projectile vomiting and diarrhoea but can also include a high temperature, abdominal pain and aching limbs.

Stay at home if you are experiencing norovirus symptoms and do not return to work or send children to school or nursery until 48 hours after symptoms have cleared.

As with COVID-19, hand washing is really important to help stop the spread of this bug, but remember, unlike for COVID-19, alcohol gels do not kill off norovirus so soap and water is best.

Norovirus can be easily spread through contact with infected individuals or contaminated surfaces.

Experts recommend disinfecting contaminated home surfaces, as well as frequently used items such as toilets, taps, telephones, door knobs, and kitchen surfaces, using a bleach-based household cleaner or a mix of bleach and hot water.

Norovirus may be transmitted via contaminated food, so those who are ill should avoid cooking and helping prepare meals for others until 48 hours after their symptoms have ended.

The bedding and clothes of individuals who have been exposed should be cleaned at 60 degrees Celsius, with disposable gloves used to handle contaminated items, according to PHE.

Dr Nick Scriven, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said:

“This has been compounded today by the warning that cases of norovirus, commonly known as the winter vomiting bug, have now reached pre-pandemic levels in summer.

“Considering the impact this has when it makes its way into hospitals – bed closures, infecting seriously unwell people and staff absence – it is frankly very worrying.

“At the moment, clinicians across the country are asking themselves exactly what the government is thinking given the fact healthcare is being ravaged.”

Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

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