As the United Kingdom starts to ease its restrictions against COVID-19, a new outbreak is on the rise: Norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting bug.

Public Health England has reminded the public of simple techniques they can do to mitigate the spread of norovirus. The health warning comes after the health authority saw a sharp increase in the winter vomiting bug cases over the last five weeks from the end of May into the first weeks of July. It reported 154 outbreaks in the routine surveillance period, about three times the average of 53 norovirus outbreaks recorded by the PHE over the same period for the last five years.

3D Representation of Norovirus Particles
(Photo: CDC / Jessica A. Allen, Illustrator: Alissa Eckert, MS via Wikimedia Commons)

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"Norovirus, commonly known as the winter vomiting bug, has been at lower levels than normal throughout the pandemic with less opportunity to spread between people in the community," explains Prof. Saheer Gharbia, Deputy Director of the PHE's National Infection Service, in the recent public health warning. "But as restrictions have eased we have seen an increase in cases across all age groups."

Most of the reported increase in the United Kingdom was found in educational settings such as nurseries and childcare facilities across the country.

The norovirus outbreaks were particularly alarming as the UK is set to lift all of its restrictions against COVID-19. Once the coronavirus restrictions are off, the country would effectively have no limits on in-person events, social distancing, and the wearing of masks - precautions that could also help mitigate the rising norovirus from spreading.

"We are now just days away from the lifting of the remaining restrictions in England and our NHS is under great strain," said Dr. Nick Scriven, former Society for Acute Medicine president, in a statement on Sky News. He additionally explains that the norovirus outbreak worsens the UK National Health Services conditions, with the cases reaching pre-pandemic levels this summer.

Norovirus: Symptoms and Simple Actions to Reduce Spread

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus is a very contagious pathogen that causes vomiting and diarrhea. The disease can be obtained from direct contact or exposure with infected people, consumption of food or water, and touching contaminated surfaces, and putting unwashed hands into your mouth.

Symptoms of the disease, also known as the winter vomiting bug, include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Other cases might show symptoms like fever, body aches, and headache. The CDC explains that the symptoms usually appear anywhere within 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to norovirus, although most of them recover in 1 to 3 days.

The PHE, on the other hand, reminds people to take note of the following to halt the spread of norovirus:

  • People experiencing the winter vomiting bug symptoms should stay at home and avoid going to work or sending kids to school until 48 hours have passed.

  • Frequent handwashing with soap and warm water. The PHE noted that alcohol hand gels don't kill norovirus - a message shared by various health institutions such as the University of Colorado.

  • In the event someone vomits, droplets begin to contaminate surrounding surfaces. For disinfecting these areas, use bleach-based household cleaners or a mixture of bleach and hot water. The same should be done for commonly used objects like toilets, faucets, doorknobs, and kitchen counters.

  • People feeling ill should stay away from food preparation activities at least until 48 hours after the symptoms clear up.

  • Wash contaminated clothing or bedding materials with detergent and waters reaching 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius).


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Check out more news and information on the Norovirus in Science Times.