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Stomach bug? Stay away from visiting hospital

With the weather getting colder, we can expect to see winter illnesses coming to the fore, such as diarrhoea and vomiting, which is often caused by norovirus.  Such infections are highly contagious so contact with other people should be minimised to avoid rapid spread.

Northampton General Hospital is asking anyone planning to visit its hospital to stay away if they or their family members have had diarrhoea, vomiting or ‘flu-like’ symptoms in the last four days.

The request is designed to help keep the ‘winter vomiting bug’ or norovirus away from vulnerable patients and staff who could pass it on.  Symptoms of norovirus include diarrhoea and vomiting and, just like flu, the virus can seriously affect vulnerable patients.

Carolyn Fox, Director Of Nursing, Midwifery & Patient Services, said: “People want to see friends and relatives in hospital as often as they can.  However, by visiting while they’re ill with a stomach bug, they can easily bring the virus into hospital.  This can be particularly serious for people who are already ill or who have a long-term condition.

“We usually see higher levels of norovirus in autumn and winter, and it’s really important to make sure that we protect vulnerable patients and hospital staff.

“This is why we’re asking everyone considering visiting a friend or relative in hospital to think carefully about whether they need to come if they have experienced an upset stomach, diarrhoea or vomiting in the last four days.

“We know that sometimes visitors feel they must take every opportunity to visit sick friends or relatives.  However, if they themselves have been unwell, they could be putting others at risk.  If you’re unsure whether to visit, please feel free to contact the ward nurse before you come into hospital.”

Norovirus is highly contagious and can spread rapidly anywhere that people are gathered, such as schools or offices, especially during colder months.  Hospitals are public buildings with hundreds (or thousands) of visitors every day.  That is why the NHS asks people to think carefully before visiting hospitals if they or anyone in their family has even mild symptoms of stomach upset.

Good hand hygiene

Good hand hygiene can help to limit the spread of the infection and there are some simple steps that the public can take to help stop a norovirus spreading:

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water, particularly after using the toilet, and before preparing food.  If you’re in an NHS facility, pay attention to hand hygiene notices such as using hand gel upon entering and leaving a ward.  Washing your hands with soap and water in between is better at preventing the spread of norovirus than gel alone.
  • Disinfect any surfaces or objects that could be contaminated with norovirus.  It is best to use a bleach-based household cleaner.  Always follow the instructions on the cleaning product. 
  • Flush away any infected faeces or vomit in the toilet.  You should also keep the surrounding toilet area clean and hygienic. 
  • Wash any clothing, or linens, which could have become contaminated with a norovirus.  Washing with hot, soapy water will help to ensure that the virus is killed. 

Although people usually recover without treatment in 24-72 hours, it is important to stay away from work, school, college or any social gatherings until you have been free of symptoms for at least 48 hours. 

If you have norovirus, the best thing you can do is rest, and take plenty of non-caffeinated drinks to avoid dehydration. Don’t visit your GP surgery or local A&E. You should recover naturally at home with no specific treatment, although over the counter medicines, such as rehydration powders and paracetamol can help to alleviate symptoms.

If you are worried about your symptoms you can ring NHS 111 or visit your local pharmacy.  They will be able to provide advice, especially for those who are at greater risk of dehydration from diarrhoea and vomiting, such as children under the age of five or the elderly.

For more information and advice about winter illnesses, visit NHS Stay Well campaign.


Notes to Editors

Winter vomiting is the term that has been used to cover the noroviruses such as the Norwalk virus.  Transmission can occur through contact with an infected person, through contact with surfaces or objects that are contaminated with the virus, or by eating contaminated food or water.

As there is a 15-48 hour incubation period, it can be difficult to detect in the early stages before diarrhoea and vomiting actually starts. Typically, the illness can last between 12 to 60 hours. There is also a 48-hour period following the last physical signs of symptoms where someone could still be infectious.

There are many types of norovirus, and it is possible for infection to occur several times in one year.  This is because immunity to the virus only lasts for 14 weeks after getting ill.

For more information about winter illnesses, visit the NHS Stay Well  campaign.

Posted on Tuesday 9th May 2017
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