September 1, 2017

Five Key Steps to Reduce your Risk of a Norovirus Outbreak

In the sunnier months we tend to hear little about norovirus, but a recent suspected outbreak at the Athletics World Championships in London highlighted the ongoing, all-year-round risk the virus presents.

Here we look at what it is and how to reduce the chance of infection.

A common virus with nasty effects

Norovirus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the UK and it’s often difficult to prevent.

If you have never been sick with norovirus, the chances are high you will, at some point, be infected. In fact, norovirus is so common that most people will get infected with the virus several times during their life.

The symptoms of norovirus can include sickness, diarrhoea and stomach pain. Most people who get sick with the virus get better within 1-to-3 days, but it can lead to dehydration or more serious illness, especially in young children and older adults.

You can get sick with norovirus by having contact with an infected person, eating and drinking food or liquids, or even touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus.

Every year, according to recent NHS figures, cases of norovirus continue to rise.

Five steps to reduce your risk of Norovirus

Currently, there’s no vaccine to prevent us getting sick from norovirus.

However there are some steps you can take to help protect yourself and others:

1. Practice proper hand hygiene

Wash hands thoroughly using the recommended NHS technique, especially after using the toilet and changing nappies and always before eating, preparing, or handling food.

It’s important you continue to wash your hands regularly for up to two weeks after becoming sick as norovirus can stay in your stools for two weeks or more, even if symptoms have stopped. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used to reduce the number of germs on your hands. However, they should not be used as a substitute for washing with soap and water.

2. Do not prepare food while infected

You should not prepare food for others or provide care while you are sick and for at least two days after symptoms have stopped. This also applies to sick workers in settings such as schools and child day care centres where they may expose young people to norovirus.

3. Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces

After vomiting or having diarrhoea immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces using an appropriate disinfectant.

4. Wash fruits and vegetables, and cook seafood thoroughly

Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating them, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.

Norovirus can survive temperatures as high as 60°C and the quick steaming processes that are often used for cooking shellfish.

Food that might be contaminated with norovirus should be thrown out.

5. Wash laundry thoroughly

Following these steps to help protect you and other people from norovirus regardless of the time or season:

  • Immediately remove and wash clothes or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool
  • handle soiled items carefully without agitating them
  • wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled items and wash your hands after, whenever possible
  • wash the items with detergent at the maximum available cycle length then machine dry them

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About the author

Leanne Spice

Leanne has nearly five years' experience in the field of environmental health, having previously worked in the public sector as an Environmental Health Technician enforcing legislation and licensing activities. Leanne holds both MCIEH and GradIOSH, and graduated from the University of the West of England with a BSc in Environmental Health.