Norovirus affects thousands of people in the UK each year and now a restaurant chain has closed several of its branches following a suspected outbreak.
More than 300 people have reportedly fallen ill after dining at the Mexican restaurant Wahaca.
The virus is sometimes spread when a person eats contaminated food. According to the NHS, this can happen if an infected person doesn’t wash their hands before handling food.
What Is Norovirus?
Norovirus is one of the most common stomach bugs, affecting between 600,000 and one million people in the UK each year.
It’s sometimes referred to as the “winter vomiting bug”, due to the fact that it’s more common in winter, although it can be caught at any time of year.
According to Channel 4 News science editor Tom Clarke, scientists aren’t precisely sure why the virus prefers the winter.
“It is thought the bug finds it easier to spread. In winter people tend to spend more time indoors in close proximity to one another, increasing the chance an infected person passes it on to a new host,” he said.
“Also, viruses like norovirus that are spread by contact may survive for longer outside of the body during winter. Lower temperatures and lower levels of sunlight mean viruses may break down more slowly on contaminated surfaces like doorhandles taps and toilet flushes.”
What Are The Symptoms?
The NHS advises that suddenly feeling sick, projectile vomiting and watery diarrhoea are the most common symptoms of norovirus.
“Some people also have a slight fever, headaches, painful stomach cramps and aching limbs,” it adds.
“The symptoms appear one to two days after you become infected and typically last for up to two or three days.”
How Is Norovirus Spread?
As well as contaminated food spreading norovirus, having close contact with someone with the illness can make you unwell.
“They may breathe out small particles containing the virus that you could inhale,” the NHS explains.
The virus is also spread by touching surfaces or objects that have been contaminated, as the virus can live outside the body for a number of days.
What Treatment Is Available?
If you think you’ve been infected by norovirus, it’s best to avoid dehydration by drinking water and getting lots of rest.
There’s no medication available for the illness, but symptoms should pass in a few days.
Most importantly, avoiding social interaction while ill is key to stopping the virus from spreading.
The NHS says you should not visit your GP with suspected norovirus, but should instead seek medical advice by calling NHS 111 from home. It’s advisable to get advice if your baby or child is displaying symptoms linked to the virus.
In 2014, Public Health England (PHE) said it was vital that people who suspect they have norovirus do not visit others in hospital.
John Harris, a norovirus expert for PHE, said: “For patients already ill in hospital, this virus could cause further health complications, making it vital to prevent introducing the virus into the hospital environment.
“No two norovirus seasons are the same and there is no way of predicting how busy a season will be.
“What we do know is that many people will be affected across the country and they will probably feel very unwell for a couple of days but will get better.”