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Norovirus - the vomiting bug

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 4 minutes read

Norovirus is also known as the vomiting bug. It is a viral gut infection that causes vomiting and diarrhea. 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
  • 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 they can sometimes last longer, especially in children.

Doctor’s advice

How can my child avoid norovirus?

To help your child avoid norovirus, a highly contagious viral infection that causes gastroenteritis, it's important to follow good hygiene practices and take preventive measures. Here are some tips to reduce the risk of norovirus infection:

Hand hygiene

Encourage your child to wash their hands frequently with soap and water, especially after using the toilet, before eating, and after playing outdoors. Teach your child to wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, making sure to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of the hands, between the fingers, and under the nails. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Ensure that your child covers all surfaces of their hands and rubs them together until dry.

Food safety

Teach your child about food safety practices, such as avoiding raw or undercooked foods, washing fruits and vegetables before eating, and storing perishable foods properly. Encourage your child not to share utensils, cups, or food with others, especially if someone in the household is sick.

Environmental cleaning

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects in your home, such as doorknobs, light switches, countertops, and toys. Wash your child's clothes, bedding, and towels regularly with detergent in hot water, especially if they have been in contact with someone who is sick.

Personal hygiene

Encourage your child to avoid touching their face, especially their eyes, nose, and mouth, as this can transfer the virus from contaminated surfaces to mucous membranes. Teach your child to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or their elbow when coughing or sneezing and dispose of tissues properly.

Stay home when ill

If your child is sick with symptoms of norovirus, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach cramps, keep them home from school or daycare until they have fully recovered and are symptom-free for at least 48 hours. Encourage your child to avoid close contact with others who are sick, and teach them to recognize the symptoms of norovirus so they can take appropriate precautions.

By following these preventive measures, you can help reduce the risk of norovirus infection in your child and promote a healthy environment for your family.

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 diarrhea 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 flavorful. 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 preparing 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 diapers, persistent diarrhea or vomiting with no signs of improvement, crying without tears, fever, blood in the stool, difficulty waking them, or increased fussiness.

If these occur, then seek urgent medical attention. If your child has diarrhea 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 diarrhea 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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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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