Dreaded bug can bring on win­ter blues

Want to avoid the win­ter vom­it­ing bug? Abi Jack­son finds out ev­ery­thing you need to know about norovirus health

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Health -

is back, and while we can all look for­ward to the ex­cesses of the fes­tive sea­son, there’s one el­e­ment of the colder months that no­body en­joys: norovirus.

More un­pleas­antly known as the ‘win­ter vom­it­ing bug’, this highly con­ta­gious vi­ral in­fec­tion is the si­lent fun-killer of ev­ery of­fice, lurk­ing in key­boards and on taps, ready to take down un­sus­pect­ing work­ers right be­fore the Christ­mas party.

Sick sea­son is un­flap­pably con­stant, but you don’t have to catch norovirus ev­ery time Novem­ber rolls around. It’s all about know­ing your en­emy.

It’s highly in­fec­tious

“The virus is in­cred­i­bly con­ta­gious and can be passed on through con­tact with an in­fected per­son, or con­tact with con­tam­i­nated sur­faces or ob­jects.

“Fae­cal mat­ter can also carry the virus, mean­ing it can be found on toi­let seats and han­dles,” says GP Dr Roger Hen­der­son.

“You can also get norovirus from con­tam­i­nated food and wa­ter, es­pe­cially bi­valve mol­luscs, such as oys­ters, mus­sels, clams, cock­les and scallops.”

As well as the ob­vi­ous breed­ing ground of the of­fice, other germ hotspots to be par­tic­u­larly wary of dur­ing the win­ter months in­clude pub­lic trans­port, schools and cruise ships.

It acts fast

The virus par­ti­cles are ex­tremely fast-act­ing, and are usu­ally in­gested through ei­ther your mouth or nose. It has a very short in­cu­ba­tion pe­riod, and once you’ve come into con­tact with the virus, it only takes 12-48 hours for symp­toms to kick in.

It hits the stom­ach first, but it’s only when norovirus ar­rives at the small in­tes­tine that it re­ally be­gins to mul­ti­ply (this is gen­er­ally when you start to feel the first twinges of nau­sea). Much like a par­a­site, the virus is not able to op­er­ate as a sin­gle agent — it needs liv­ing cells to feed from.

Once it’s gained con­trol, it’s able to spread like wild­fire by at­tach­ing it­self to healthy cells in the lin­ing the in­tes­tine.

Dur­ing this early incu- ba­tion pe­riod, the in­fected cells ex­plode, pro­duc­ing repli­cas of the virus and re­leas­ing more in­fected par­ti­cles into the blood­stream.

It lasts for 48 hours

At this point, you’ll be­gin to feel very un­well, as your body’s im­mune sys­tem twigs that some­thing isn’t quite right and be­gins to pro­duce an­ti­bod­ies to fight the in­fected cells.

You may ex­pe­ri­ence sud­den pro­jec­tile vom­it­ing and wa­tery di­ar­rhoea as your body at­tempts to fight the in­fec­tion. While this may be alarm­ing in its un­pleas­ant­ness, these are your body’s nat­u­ral trig­ger-re­sponses, as your im­mune sys­tem toils to flush the par­ti­cles out of your body.

As well as the dreaded toi­let runs, Dr Hen­der­son notes that you may ex­pe­ri­ence stom­ach cramps, ab­dom­i­nal pain, fa­tigue and a mild fever while you’re con­ta­gious.

The good news is, norovirus tends to leave as quickly as it ar­rives, usu­ally last­ing one to two days. Peo­ple gen­er­ally find they con­tinue to feel weak for a few days af­ter­wards, as the im­mune sys­tems works over­time to bat­tle against the in­fec­tion.

Re­cov­ery takes a while

“There is no spe­cific treat­ment for the virus but to let the ill­ness run its course,” says Hen­der­son. “While the symp­toms are not pleas­ant, most peo­ple make a full re­cov­ery within a few days. Both vom­it­ing and di­ar­rhoea cause loss of wa­ter from the body, so you need to drink plenty of liq­uids to re­place lost flu­ids. An­tidiar­rheal medicines such as lop­eramide can ease symp­toms, while parac­eta­mol helps aches and pains.”

You might be tempted to rush straight back to work once the vom­it­ing quells, but Hen­der­son ad­vises stay­ing at home un­til 48 hours af­ter the symp­toms have passed, oth­er­wise you still run the risk of pass­ing the virus onto oth­ers.

Keep the virus at bay

So how do you avoid get­ting sick dur­ing the cheeri­est of sea­sons? Christ­mas is all about com­ing to­gether, and no­body wants to be con­fined to their quar­ters like a Scrooge all win­ter.

Your best course of ac­tion is to prac­tice good hy­giene. Wash­ing your hands af­ter us­ing the toi­let should in­volve a good scrub with an­tibac­te­rial soap, not just a quick splash of wa­ter be­fore you run out of the bath­room.

“Con­sider wear­ing gloves when trav­el­ling on pub­lic trans­port and avoid touch­ing your face and mouth with your hands,” adds Hen­der­son.

Norovirus is also good mo­ti­va­tion for a de­layed spring clean. Scour your sur­faces, but don’t over­look places that might have been touched by a sick part­ner, col­league or fam­ily mem­ber, such as re­mote con­trols, phones, door­knobs and key­boards.

The virus can linger on hard sur­faces for days and with­stand many ba­sic an­tibac­te­rial sprays, so throw on your Marigolds and start scrub­bing with a di­luted bleach so­lu­tion. Your col­leagues will cer­tainly thank you.

FEEL­ING UN­WELL: The win­ter vom­it­ing bug gen­er­ally lasts 48 hours, and re­cov­ery can take a few days.

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