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
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.