Norovirus is one of the most common causes of vomiting and diarrhoea (gastroenteritis). It is a major cause of food and waterborne outbreaks and is often responsible for outbreaks in resthomes, schools, early childhood centres, and cruise ships.  Although not usually severe, norovirus can be particularly harmful to the elderly, infants and people with poor immune systems.

Symptoms occur between 10-50 hours of exposure to an infected person, food or environment and may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle/joints aches and pains
  • Nausea

The illness usually lasts for two or three days. A person is most infectious when they have diarrhoea and/or vomiting. However, they can remain infectious for at least 3 days after symptoms stop and on some occasions for up to 2 weeks afterwards.

No specific treatment is available, however symptoms can be relieved by drinking plenty of fluids and taking paracetamol for fever and pain. Using anti-diarrhoeal medications is not usually recommended because they may stop the body getting rid of the virus.

Contact your GP or Healthline (0800 611 116) for further advice.

Preventing Spread of the Disease

People may become infected by swallowing and/or breathing in droplets containing the virus from faeces or vomit. Noroviruses can remain infectious on surfaces such as tables and curtains for several days.

Norovirus may be spread in many ways:

  • consuming contaminated food or drink
  • touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then putting your fingers in your mouth
  • direct contact with an infected person (eg by sharing food or eating from the same plate or cutlery)         
  • through the air (when vomiting sends tiny particles into the air).

To prevent spreading the disease:

  • Don’t go to work, school/childcare or hospital for at least 48 hours after symptoms stop
  • Don’t prepare or handle food for at least 48 hours after symptoms stop
  • Wash any contaminated clothes and bedding using detergent and hot water
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces using a bleach-based disinfectant
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water or an alcohol-based gel.

Exclusion from work, school or Childcare

Stay away from work, school or childcare when you have diarrhoea or vomiting and don't return until all symptoms have stopped for 48 hours.

Norovirus is a major issue in rest homes and hospitals. Stay away if you are unwell or if you are advised that there is an outbreak at the home or hospital.