The winter vomiting bug is poorly named, really, and I don’t mean because we should all be more properly calling it a norovirus. Sure it causes vomiting and is more common in the winter months, with between 10,000 and 20,000 people a week catching the virus in Ireland during peak season, but I think it could more accurately be called “the winter vomiting and losing the contents of your entire body down the loo” bug.
You don’t hear about it in media reports very often – because, y’know, it’s so much less glamorous than puking your ring up – but diarrhoea is at the other end (ahem) of this thoroughly unpleasant illness and makes it a real dual delight.
It’s the single most common stomach bug in the country so whether you’re currently afflicted (you have my deepest sympathy) or are hoping to keep the winter vomiting whatchamaycallit at bay, here’s what you need to know about the bug.
- Sudden nausea
- Watery diarrhoea
- Raised temperature
- Stomach cramps
- Aching limbs
Not all cases of the winter vomiting bug present with all these symptoms.
Symptoms usually begin around 12 to 48 hours after infection, and thereafter the illness lasts for about 12 to 60 hours. It’s obviously not pleasant while it lasts, but most people make a full recovery within a couple of days. Pity poor Hilary Clinton though who is rumoured to have picked up the virus during her recent visit to Dublin.
As there is no specific cure, there is absolutely no point going to your doctor: there will be nothing they can do for you.
The main danger from the winter vomiting bug is dehydration from vomiting and diarrhoea, so drink plenty of water. You could also take paracetamol to ease any fever, aches, or pains. If you’re able to eat, stick with foods that are easy to digest.
It may also be helpful to have a clear route to the loo at all times.
Have you seen the movie Contagion? The winter vomiting bug is, admittedly, a smidge less deadly than the fictional pandemic MEV-1 virus depicted in the film and it’s not airborne, but I find it a helpful flick to keep in mind when thinking about contagious illnesses; it really encourages me to adhere to best practices.
The winter vomiting bug is transmitted by direct person-to-person contact (look, ma: no handshakes!) but as the virus can survive quite happily outside the body for long periods it can also very frequently be passed on through food or drink prepared by a contaminated person, or by touching surfaces and objects that a contaminated person has touched. (While cooking usually kills the bug, foods served raw – or foods that are handled by a contaminated person after cooking – still present a risk.)
Basically if you leave the house and touch anyone or anything in the course of your day, you’re at risk of picking it up.
The virus needs to be ingested orally to take hold, so while it may sound old-fashioned frequent and scrupulous hand washing with plenty of soap and warm running water – all the time, not just after symptoms develop – is the key to preventing the spread of the winter vomiting bug. Hand sanitiser is not an effective substitute for dealing with the virus.
If at all possible, reduce or eliminate contact with others while you’re unwell.
Any potentially contaminated surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected with a bleach-based cleaner. These could include toilets, bathroom surfaces, door handles, countertops, and utensils. Additionally, fabrics like bedclothes (and gloves, I’d suggest) should be washed at the highest temperature they can take.
It’s worth mentioning that you can’t build up a long-term immunity to the virus, so constant vigilance is a must if you want to avoid being struck down. Just think of poor Gwyneth Paltrow in Contagion every once in a while if you need reminding to lather up!
Have you been struck down with the winter vomiting and losing the contents of your entire body down the loo bug this winter?