Wave goodbye to the winter vomiting bug

Woman lying in bed feeling ill

Despite its name, the winter vomiting bug (norovirus) is more likely to catch you out in the autumn. A million people are affected in the UK each year, most of them taken by surprise because the virus attacks so suddenly. So what can you do to make sure you don’t pick it up – or pass it on?

Spot the signs

There is no way of predicting whether you’ll catch norovirus, and no way of priming your body against it. ‘Immune boosters help against the common cold, but fitter people are just as susceptible to norovirus,’ warns GP Dr James Thompson. ‘It starts with a feeling of nausea followed by vomiting and diarrhoea. If you suspect you’re suffering, take steps to avoid passing it on and make yourself comfortable – your symptoms could last for a couple of days.’

Stay at home

‘Your symptoms may ease after 12 to 24 hours, but you’re still likely to be infectious, so stay off work for at least 48 hours – or up to 72 hours if you work with food,’ says Dr Thompson. ‘Take advice from human resources or your occupational health department if you have one.’

Wash your hands

Using soap and warm water, clean hands frequently and thoroughly – especially after using the loo and before preparing food. ‘Be mindful of what you’ve touched outdoors and avoid touching your face if your hands have been on door handles or stair rails. This is how norovirus spreads, and hand sanitisers may not kill the bug,’ says Dr Thompson.

Keep it clean

At home, disinfect surfaces with chlorine bleach and if you have more than one loo, keep one separate for any infected family members. ‘Don’t share towels, flannels or toothbrushes, to prevent the whole family getting the bug,’ says Dr Thompson.

Focus on food

Be particularly careful about raw, unwashed food that could have been handled by someone with norovirus – and think carefully before ordering oysters. The Food Standards Agency’s research last year found that 76 per cent of British oysters carried norovirus – however, there is no way of telling whether this would infect people eating the shellfish.

Heal with herbs

Herbal remedies can help the healing process, says medical herbalist Lucy Stephens of www.revaclinic.com. ‘Goldenseal contains an active ingredient, berberine, which is known to help prevent and treat diarrhoea. It also calms the gut and slows peristalsis, the movement in the gut that becomes disordered when you have diarrhoea. Equally beneficial is barberry – another source of berberine. Try G Baldwin & Co’s tinctures of Golden Seal (£5.39 for 50ml) or Barberry (£4.05 for 50ml), available from health stores. If you can stomach it, fresh garlic (one chopped clove swallowed like a pill) is also great for fighting a tummy bug because of its anti-microbial properties. Or brew a pot of tea using fresh thyme (leave the lid on to keep in the healing oils).’

Stay hydrated

Water and rehydration drinks, such as Dioralyte Relief (£3.75 for six sachets from Boots), will prevent dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhoea. ‘If you’re finding it difficult to keep anything down, try tiny sips or sucking on ice cubes – and avoid acidic drinks (fruit juices and fizzy drinks) which may further irritate your stomach lining,’ advises Dr Thompson.

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