Introduction 

Norovirus, sometimes known as the winter vomiting bug, is the most common stomach bug in the UK.

The virus is highly contagious. It can affect people of all ages and causes vomiting and diarrhoea.

There's no specific cure for norovirus, so you have to let it run its course. It's usually mild and shouldn't last more than a couple of days.

The period from when you're infected to when you start to show symptoms (the incubation period) usually lasts between 12 and 48 hours. You may be infectious to other people during this time.

Although having norovirus can be unpleasant, it's not usually dangerous and most people make a full recovery within a couple of days without having to see their GP.

Read more about the symptoms of norovirus.

Noroviruses

There are at least 25 different strains of noroviruses known to affect humans. They're the most common cause of stomach bugs (gastroenteritis) in the UK.

Each year, it's estimated that between 600,000 and 1 million people in the UK catch norovirus. The illness is sometimes called the "winter vomiting bug" because it's more common in winter. However, you can catch the virus at any time of the year.

What should I do?

If you have norovirus, follow the steps below to help ease your symptoms:

  • drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
  • take paracetamol for any fever or aches and pains
  • if you feel like eating, eat foods that are easy to digest
  • stay at home – don't go to see your GP because norovirus is contagious and there's nothing your GP can do while you have it
  • contact your GP to seek advice if your symptoms last longer than a few days or if you already have a serious illness

Extra care should be taken to prevent babies and small children who have diarrhoea and vomiting from dehydrating by giving them plenty of fluids. Babies and young children can still drink milk.

Read more about treating norovirus.

Don't worry if you're pregnant and you get norovirus. There's no risk to your unborn child.

Preventing norovirus spreading

Norovirus is easily spread. If an infected person doesn't wash their hands before handling food, they can pass the virus on to others. You can also catch it by touching contaminated surfaces or objects.

Follow the measures below to help prevent the virus spreading.

  • wash your hands frequently
  • don't share towels and flannels
  • disinfect surfaces that an infected person has touched

Outbreaks of norovirus in public places, such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools, are common because the virus can survive for several days on surfaces or objects touched by an infected person.

If you have norovirus, you may continue to be infectious for a short period after your symptoms stop. You should therefore avoid preparing food and direct contact with others for at least 48 hours after your symptoms disappear.

Read more about preventing norovirus.

Norovirus

Find out what norovirus is, how to reduce your risk of getting it and what to do if you have it.

Media last reviewed: 19/11/2012

Next review due: 19/11/2014

Further help and advice

If you or a relative have norovirus and you want further help and advice, you can call the NHS 111 service.

Don't go to see your GP – norovirus is highly contagious and there's nothing your GP can do while you have it.

Page last reviewed: 20/01/2014

Next review due: 20/01/2016