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Norovirus - the vomiting bug

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger HendersonReviewed on 13.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Norovirus is also known as the vomiting bug. It is an gut infection by a virus that can actually cause both vomiting and diarrhoea. It can be highly contagious and spread through contaminated food and water or through someone else who is infected. 

Abdominal pain and cramps are common symptoms. Some children get general flu-like symptoms alongside, such as headache, muscle aches, and possibly mild fever and chills. Symptoms can start 1 or 2 days after exposure to the virus and can last for up to 3 days, but it can sometimes last longer, especially in children. 

How can my child avoid norovirus?

Always make sure that food is washed and cooked thoroughly before giving it to children. Ensure your child washes their hands thoroughly with soap and water when going to the toilet or when handling and preparing food. 

Unfortunately, there is no available vaccine at the current time to protect against norovrius.

How is norovirus treated?

There is no specific treatment - antibiotics won't work on a virus, and there aren't relevant antivirals. Your child needs to remain home and rest until they have had no symptoms for at least 48 hours. A fever plus vomiting and diarrhoea means your child is losing lots of fluids and salts, and it puts them at risk of dehydration, which can be serious.

Keep offering them fluids, they should be drinking more than usual, and you should encourage sips little and often rather than big gulps in one go, as this can stretch the stomach and cause a vomiting reflex.

Alongside fluids, products like oral rehydration sachets can help to replace lost salts and keep their body in balance and in a position to recover quickly.

They will probably be off their food, so don’t worry, they can survive a couple of days. Reintroduce foods slowly, avoiding dairy products, spicy foods and anything too heavy or flavourful. Bland soups and dry toast are easy on the stomach and generally well-tolerated.

As it is so contagious, if you have other children in the family, ensure everyone is washing their hands thoroughly after going to the toilet and before food. They should avoid sharing cutlery and cups, clothes and towels.

When should they see their doctor?

You should be concerned if the child stops or significantly reduces their feeding. Signs of dehydration include fewer wet nappies, persistent diarrhoea or vomiting with no signs of improvement, crying without tears, fever, blood in the stool and difficulty waking them for any sustained period or increased fussiness.

If these occur then seek urgent medical attention. If your child has diarrhoea for more than 7 days and vomiting for more than 3 days then do speak to your doctor. 

Should they stay off school?

Your child should stay off school and avoid pregnant women or those with a lower immunity, until their symptoms of diarrhoea or vomiting have resolved for 48 hours, as they could be contagious to others. After this time, you can judge if they are well enough to be in school or nursery, or need a little more time to rest and recuperate.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 13.10.2023