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Information on norovirus for patients

Norovirus - your questions answered

What is Viral Gastroenteritis (Norovirus)?

There are a number of causes of Viral Gastroenteritis of which Norovirus is the most common cause of infectious gastroenteritis in England and Wales. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, headache and a temperature.

How is Norovirus spread?

Norovirus spreads in aerosol droplets that are created when infected children or adults vomit and/or have diarrhoea. The droplets can land on hands and surfaces and survive for some time. Good hand washing and thorough cleaning helps kill the virus.

Norovirus is highly infectious and circulates in the community throughout the year. Outbreaks of Norovirus are common in semi-closed places such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools and nurseries. When an outbreak occurs in a hospital it is often necessary to close affected Bays/Wards/Units to help control the situation.

How can the spread of Norovirus be prevented?

If you are a patient and are having diarrhoea and/or vomiting that you feel is unusual for you, please tell a member of staff as soon as possible.

If you are a parent/carer and your child develops diarrhoea and/or vomiting that you feel is unusual, please tell a member of staff as soon as possible.

If you are a visitor and have been unwell with diarrhoea and/or vomiting please do not visit until you have been free from diarrhoea and/or vomiting for at least 48 hours. You could be putting patients and staff at risk.

Uncovered food such as biscuits/fruit/sweets must not be kept on lockers.

All patients including children should be encouraged to wash hands after using the toilet and before meals. Staff will assist if necessary.

Visitors should wash their hands on entering and on leaving a Bay/Ward/Unit and if involved in any personal care for the baby/child or adult.

If you are concerned a member of staff has not cleaned their hands it is OK to remind them.

How long can it take to get Norovirus?

This varies from person to person but typically between 12 - 48 hours after being in contact with an infected person/source.

Can it be treated?

There is no active treatment for Norovirus. Symptoms can last between 12 - 60 hours. The illness is generally mild and people usually recover fully within 1 - 2 days. However, if a person has a weakened immune system it may take longer.

It is important to ensure that fluid lost through diarrhoea and/or vomiting is replaced.

Norovirus can occur at any age because immunity is not long lasting but there are no long term effects that result from being infected.

What if a patient catches Norovirus in hospital?

Patients may be moved to a single room if they have symptoms. Staff will wear gloves and aprons to prevent the spread of the virus. If a number of people are affected it may be necessary to close the Bay/Ward/Unit to prevent spread to other areas.

Can it affect pregnancy?

There is no evidence that Norovirus affects the baby. Ensure you drink plenty of fluids and contact your Midwife/GP if you are concerned.

What about laundry?

Laundry can be taken home to wash. It should be bagged safely on the Bay/Ward/Unit. It is advisable to wash this laundry separately. Use the hottest wash that the laundry can withstand and ideally tumble dry afterwards. Anyone handling dirty laundry should wash and dry their hands.

What about visiting hours?

If the Bay/Ward/Unit is closed because of Norovirus there may be some visiting restrictions. There will be signs on the Bay/Ward/Unit door and visitors can check with the Nurse-in-Charge.

Does Norovirus stop patients from going home?

If a Bay/Ward/Unit is closed patients are not transferred or discharged to other hospitals. This applies to all patients whether they have had symptoms or not. Some Nursing Homes/Care Homes will accept patients from closed areas but many will not. Immediately the Bay/Ward/Unit is opened transfers and discharges can take place.

Patients on closed Bays/Wards/Units can be discharged to their own homes if their Doctors are happy for them to go.

Is it safe to go home?

Once the Doctors have decided that a patient is medically fit for discharge they can go home.

If a person has had Viral Gastroenteritis during their stay the worst effects should be over. If they are free from diarrhoea and/or vomiting the risk of it spreading to others in a home environment is small.

If a person has not had Viral Gastroenteritis during their stay they may have come into contact with it and there is a chance that they could develop it at home. This would typically happen within 2 days of leaving hospital.

What if Norovirus symptoms start at home?

If you/your relative/friend/child starts to feel unwell contact the GP. Tell them that there has been recent contact with a hospital area that has been closed due to diarrhoea and/or vomiting and take advice from them.

It is important that the person is able to drink fluids (drinking water). If any symptoms of nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea last for more than 12 hours contact the GP.

Can laundry be washed normally at home?

If a person is having Norovirus symptoms it is advisable to wash laundry separately. Use the hottest wash that the laundry can withstand and ideally tumble dry afterwards. Anyone handling dirty laundry should wash and dry their hands.

When can I go out?

Anyone who has Norovirus is likely to feel too unwell to leave home for a couple of days. It takes time to return to normal and you can remain infectious for around 48 hours. It is best not go out for 2 days after your last symptoms.

What about family/friends/carers?

Family/friends/carers are only at risk if living with the person who has symptoms, or visiting whilst the person is having symptoms. If you have young children or an elderly partner/relatives please ensure everyone carries out strict hand hygiene and that toilets/hand wash basins are cleaned after each use.

What about having visitors at home?

It may be better if visitors particularly young children, sick or elderly people did not visit until 48 - 72 hours after symptoms stop as they could be put at risk.