Norovirus causes diarrhoea and vomiting and is one of the most common stomach bugs in the UK. It's also called the 'winter vomiting bug' because it's more common in winter, although you can catch it at any time of the year.
Norovirus can be very unpleasant but usually clears up by itself in a few days.
You can normally look after yourself or your child at home.
Avoid going to your GP, as norovirus can spread to others very easily. Phone your GP practice or NHS 24 on 111 if you're concerned or need advice.
Symptoms of norovirus
You're likely to have norovirus if you experience:
- suddenly feeling sick
- projectile vomiting
- 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 two or three days.
How is norovirus spread?
Norovirus spreads very easily in public places such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools.
You can catch it if small particles of vomit or stools (poo) from an infected person get into your mouth through:
- close contact with someone with norovirus who may breathe out small particles of the virus that you then inhale
- touching contaminated surfaces or objects, as the virus can survive outside the body for several days
- eating contaminated food, which can happen if an infected person doesn't wash their hands before preparing or handling food
Norovirus is most infectious from the start of symptoms until 48 hours after all symptoms have stopped. You may also be infectious for a short time before and after this.
You can get norovirus more than once because the virus is always changing and your body is unable to build up long-term resistance to it.
It's not always possible to avoid getting norovirus, but following the advice below can help stop the virus spreading. You should:
- stay off work or school until at least 48 hours after the norovirus symptoms have stopped
- avoid visiting anyone in hospital during this time
- wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water particularly after using the toilet and before preparing or handling food
- be aware alcohol-based hand gels don't kill the virus
Maintain basic hygiene and cleaning to help stop the spread of norovirus by:
- disinfecting any surfaces or objects that could be contaminated, using a bleach-based household cleaner.
- washing any items of clothing or bedding that could have become contaminated separately on a hot wash (60 °C) to ensure the virus is killed.
- not sharing towels and flannels
- flushing any poo or vomit in the toilet and cleaning the surrounding area with a bleach-based household cleaner
- avoiding eating raw, unwashed food
- only eating oysters from a reliable source as they can carry norovirus
What to do if you have norovirus
If you experience sudden diarrhoea and/or vomiting, the best thing to do is to stay at home until you're feeling better.
There's no treatment for norovirus, so you have to let it run its course.
You don't usually need to get medical advice unless there's a risk of a more serious problem.
To help ease your own or your child’s symptoms drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
You need to drink more than usual to replace the fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhoea – as well as water, adults could also try fruit juice and soup.
Avoid giving fizzy drinks or fruit juice to children as it can make their diarrhoea worse. Babies should continue to feed as usual, either with breast milk or other milk feeds.
You can also:
- take paracetamol for any fever or aches and pains
- get plenty of rest
- use special rehydration drinks, available from community pharmacies if you have signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouth or dark urine
If you feel like eating, try plain foods, such as soup, rice, pasta and bread.
Babies and young children, especially under a year old, have a greater risk of becoming dehydrated.
When to get medical advice
You don't normally need to see your GP if you think you or your child has norovirus, as there's no specific treatment for it.
Antibiotics won't help because norovirus is caused by a virus.
Phone your GP or NHS 24 on 111 if you're concerned or feel you need advice.
Get medical advice if:
- your baby or child has passed 6 or more watery stools (poo) in the past 24 hours, or has vomited 3 times or more in the past 24 hours
- your baby or child is less responsive, feverish, or has pale or mottled skin
- you or your child has symptoms of severe dehydration, such as persistent dizziness, only passing small amounts of urine or no urine at all, or reduced consciousness – babies and elderly people have a greater risk of becoming dehydrated
- you have bloody diarrhoea
- your symptoms haven't started to improve after a few days
- you or your child have a serious underlying medical condition, such as kidney disease, and have diarrhoea and vomiting
Your GP may suggest sending off a sample of your stool to a laboratory to confirm whether you have norovirus or another infection.