The most common cause of gastrointestinal infection in care homes is Norovirus. Norovirus, also called the "winter vomiting bug", is a stomach bug that causes vomiting and diarrhoea in people of all ages. Symptoms may be mild, but they can also lead to severe illness, hospitalisation and death.
Norovirus is transmitted from person-to-person via the airborne or faecal-oral route; it can also be transmitted from a contaminated environment or equipment. Norovirus can cause outbreaks in education and health and social care settings and these are most frequently reported between the months of November and April.
The definition of a Norovirus outbreak is ‘two or more separate episodes of diarrhoea and/or vomiting that are not explained by another diagnosis or process (such as known colitis, enteral feeding, laxative use, etc.) that affects two or more residents or staff members associated within the care setting. If you suspect that there is an outbreak of Norovirus you must immediately communicate your concerns with your manager as an outbreak must be reported to Public Health England.
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A Quick Reference Poster for Care Providers is available below to print out.
The main symptoms of Norovirus are feeling sick (nausea), diarrhoea and/or vomiting, those affected can experience a temperature of 38C or above, a headache as well as aching arms and legs.
Symptoms can start suddenly within 1 to 2 days of being infected and the sickness and/or diarrhoea may last between 1-7 days.
It is important that individuals affected isolate, children should not attend playgroups, nurseries or school and adults must stay away from work until their symptoms have stopped for a period of 48 hours. It is essential that those affected do not visit health or social care settings.
Norovirus is known to spread easily from
- being in close contact with someone with Norovirus
- touching surfaces or objects that have the virus on them, then touching your mouth
- eating food that have been prepared or handled by someone with Norovirus
To prevent the spread of Norovirus it is important that you
- wash your hands with soap and water frequently (alcohol gel is ineffective)
- wash any contaminated clothing or bedding separately on a hot wash
- clean toilet seats, flush handles, taps, high touch surfaces and door handles frequently
Those with symptoms of Norovirus must not
- prepare food for other people
- share towels, flannels, cutlery or utensils
- use a swimming pool until 2 weeks after the symptoms stop
It is important to get plenty of rest and prevent dehydration, more fluid than usual will be required to replace the fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhoea – as well as water, adults could also try fruit juice and soup. Paracetamol is helpful to relieve fever and aches or pains.