Four million people struck by norovirus every year

(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Four million people in Britain come down with the norovirus “winter vomiting bug” each year – at a cost of more than £700m to society, not to mention the considerable personal discomfort.

New research finds the highly-contagious stomach bugs, caused by the virus strain, are far more common than thought, afflicting more than 700 million people worldwide a year.

“You only seem to hear about it when people get sick on a cruise ship or at a restaurant but norovirus is everywhere,” said Sarah Bartsch, of Johns Hopkins University, who led the study.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are or if you’re in a wealthy country or a poorer one – or if you’ve had it before – you can get it again. And it is really unpleasant,” she added.

Most people will be struck down by the virus five times in their lifetime. Most often it will strike in the winter – thus the nickname “winter vomiting bug” – but not always.

Apart from vomiting, the virus also causes nausea and diarrhoea and costs global society more than $60bn a year, some of it in healthcare expenses but mostly in lost productivity as people are forced to take time off work.

The research, published in the journal Plos One, suggests that the cost of norovirus is not properly understood. The authors point out that norovirus is not routinely tested for and that there is no vaccine or treatment for it. They say they hope their work will influence funding agencies and public health bodies to allocate more funds to education and control of norovirus.