THE threat of winter vomiting sickness has prompted public health specialists to urge people to keep away from their doctors, hospitals and care homes if they feel unwell.
The illness, usually caused by the Norovirus, affects as many as a million people every year and is highly infectious.
Dr Ken Lamden, a consultant with the Health Protection Agency’s Cumbria & Lancashire Health Protection Unit, said: “Outbreaks of Norovirus infection are common as winter approaches. However, its impact on individuals and institutions, such as hospitals and residential care homes, can be limited with simple actions.
“In hospitals, it is often necessary to isolate individual cases and close wards to contain the infection and stop it spreading.
“There are also things that people can do to protect themselves and others from the worst effects of norovirus infection.”
Severe vomiting and or diarrhoea are common symptoms of the illness. It is generally short-lived and most people recover in 12 to 60 hours without treatment other than rest and taking plenty of drinks to replace lost liquids.
Dr Lamden recommends a self-imposed purdah to prevent spread of infection – with no school, work, hospital or care home visits, parties or meeting up with friends until feeling completely better for at least 48 hours. Anyone who is sick should not handle or prepare food for other people, or share towels.
They should wash their hands thoroughly and regularly at all times, but particularly after toilet visits and before eating, if possible, using paper towels which are thrown away immediately. Any surface contaminated by vomit or faeces needs to be promptly and thoroughly disinfected.
Phone the family doctor or NHS Direct for advice if symptoms persist or appear to be worsening, particularly if there is bloody diarrhoea when it is important to get advice and not delay. The NHS Direct number is 0845-4647.