Norovirus outbreak 2012

Behind the Headlines

Wednesday December 5 2012

Washing hands

Washing your hands can help prevent norovirus spreading

Many newspapers are reporting on the Health Protection Agency’s latest figures on the ongoing outbreak of norovirus – the so-called winter vomiting disease. The data suggest that cases of the virus, which are usually highest after Christmas, are high for this time of year.

According to data available up to December 2 2012, there have been 2,313 confirmed laboratory reports (which is 64% higher than the same period in the last season). But the HPA estimates that for every confirmed report there are another 288 unreported cases.

This means that as many as 666,144 people could have been affected in this outbreak of norovirus. This number is expected to continue to rise.


What is norovirus?

Noroviruses are Britain’s most common cause of infectious gastroenteritis, also known as "winter vomiting disease" or "stomach flu". Although not usually dangerous – the vast majority of sufferers recover after one or two days – the very young and the elderly are at risk of complications, such as dehydration, and may need hospital treatment.

It’s estimated that, typically, between 600,000 and 1 million people suffer from norovirus every year. That makes the infection – caused by one of a number of closely related viruses – the most common stomach infection in the UK.


What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of norovirus typically begin between 24 and 48 hours after infection with the virus. Sudden onset of nausea is usually the first sign of infection, followed by vomiting and watery diarrhoea. Some may also experience a mild fever, aching limbs and headaches. Symptoms typically disappear after a day or two.


How do people catch norovirus?

Through contact with an infected person, as well as contact with surfaces – such as door handles and tables – that are contaminated with the virus. It is also caught by consuming contaminated food or liquid. This means that outbreaks are particularly common within contained environments such as hospitals, schools and offices.

Once you have caught norovirus you are immune to the illness for around 14 weeks. After this time it is possible to be reinfected with the virus and suffer the same symptoms.


What can I do to stop myself catching norovirus?

It is not possible to guarantee that you will not catch norovirus. But good hygiene will lower your risk of catching or spreading norovirus. Wash your hands frequently, particularly after going to the toilet, and before eating or preparing food. Avoiding raw, unwashed foods during a norovirus outbreak can also lower your risk of infection.


What should I do if I have norovirus?

There is no specific treatment for norovirus illness, and you will have to let the illness run its course. Stay at home and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. That means regular sips of water or fruit juice, even if you are feeling sick. Adults can take rehydration drinks and anti-diarrhoea medicines available from pharmacies. Anti-diarrhoea medicines are not suitable for children.

To avoid infecting other people, wash your hands regularly. Stay at home for 48 hours after the last sign of symptoms, and do not prepare food for others for three days after the last sign of symptoms.

The vast majority of those infected make a full recovery within two days. But particular care must be taken with the very young and older people who catch norovirus, as they are at higher risk of dehydration.


Need help now?

If you’re suffering symptoms of norovirus, you can get advice now from NHS Direct 0845 4647.  

Analysis by NHS Choices

Edited by NHS Choices

Links to the headlines

More than half a million people struck down with norovirus. The Daily Telegraph, December 4 2012

Cases of winter vomiting virus top 666,000. The Independent, December 4 2012

Winter vomiting bug hits 700,000 people as early onset of virus catches NHS 'unawares'. Daily Mail, December 4 2012

Further reading

Health Protection Agency. HPA update on seasonal norovirus activity. Published online December 4 2012


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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

qstevie said on 29 January 2013

I've had this now for well over a week. I thought it had gone, because I was suddenly hungry again and I had a great meal yesterday. Unfortunately, it all returned during the night! I wish I were in the 'vast majority' because this has gone on long enough. I'm a 51 year old man and I'm going to end up looking like Kate Moss on a catwalk! It's nice to lose some weight, but I can't think this is the best way of doing it! Also my partner is in hospital with leukaemia and they won't let me visit

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Kioramaid said on 05 October 2012

D&V, the chills horrible headache that horrible crawling feeling under the skin I am assuming its the norovirus my grandchildren have had it but I saw them a week ago and that seems a long time to incubate I also saw them on Wednesday for a few hours and that seems too short an incubation so I'm at a loss how i'v managed to get this. I live in maidstone so was wondering if there was some sort of local outbreak
This worked for me fennel tea then moved on to plain in unbuttered bread followed by jelly. The jelly tip is great for kids it rehydrates them and is nice and cold and slips down easily when throats are sore from the vomiting and burning from stomach acid lots of sympathy if you happen to get this believe me you'll need it

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bobby202 said on 24 February 2012

i unfortunaly got the norovirvs after 3 deap cleans at st geoges hospital tooting . On 2 seperate visits 2 my husband i had to pull up doctors nurses porters and visiters for not cleaning their hands before entering the ward . This all happend on the rodney smith ward which is still infected surly this area should be locked down and a properly deep cleaned .Matron would not have aproved if my ward had anything like this in it . yous thankfully bobby

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