THE first wave of norovirus outbreaks have hit the UK this autumn - as the colder weather sets in.
The winter vomiting bug has closed schools and hospital wards, as experts urge the public to be alert to the symptoms of the highly-contagious illness.
Public Health England stats show there have been 25 outbreaks since July 1 - the start of the 2019/20 season.
The latest PHE report states: "There have been 25 outbreaks reported, 18 of which resulted in ward/bay closures and 11 of which were laboratory confirmed as norovirus."
The figures up to the week starting September 30 show 780 cases of suspected norovirus reported.
That's compared to the average at this time of year of 769 cases, PHE points out.
Last month, a school in Lancashire was forced to close its doors to pupils while a deep clean was carried out, reports Lancs Live.
A total of 50 people - 45 pupils and five members of staff - at a primary school in Carnforth were struck by the nasty bug.
Meanwhile, medics were forced to restrict visiting hours on a ward at Cannock Chase Hospital last week due to a norovirus outbreak, StokeonTrentLive reported.
Similar restrictions were put in place at George Elliot Hospital in Nuneaton for four days after patients fell ill with diarrhoea and vomiting, CoventryLive reported.
A hospital spokesman told the public at the time: "Please help us to protect our patients and staff by not visiting the hospital if you are feeling unwell - especially if you have diarrhoea and vomiting or flu symptoms."
Norovirus is one of the most common stomach bugs in the UK and is rampant during the colder months, although you can catch it at any time of year.
That's why it is important to know the signs of norovirus and how to avoid catching the nasty stomach bug.
The signs to watch out for:
- suddenly feeling sick
- projectile vomiting
- watery diarrhoea
- tummy pain and cramps
- slight fever
- aching limbs
If you start experiencing these symptoms the advice from medics is to stay at home and get plenty of rest until you're feeling better.
You should call in sick at work, and stop your child going to school if they fall ill - to stop the bug spreading.
And health officials have even warned people to avoid going to their GP and into hospital, because the bug can spread like wildfire and cause serious complications for those who are already ill.
Your symptoms should clear in two to three days, but if they don't it is important to speak to your GP.
When it comes to kids, the advice can be different.
If your child has symptoms of norovirus and have vomitted more than three times, or had more than six bouts of diarrhoea in 24 hours you should take them to a doctor.
Protect the elderly and babies
Public Health England has previously urged people to be prepared, learn the signs to watch out for and take steps to protect themselves.
Nick Phin, National Infection Service deputy director at PHE has warned previously that norovirus can be particularly dangerous to very young babies and toddlers, and the elderly.
"Norovirus can be unpleasant and is easily passed on to those around you," he warned.
"Most people get over it within a day or two, but in the very young, elderly and those who have weakened immune systems it can last longer.
"It is easy to get dehydrated, so it's important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent this.
Stay away from places like hospitals and care homes, and avoid preparing food or having close contact with others when you’re ill, to limit the spread of norovirusNick Phin
"It usually lasts about two days.
"But, there's not much that can be done to treat it."
Due to the fact it is a virus, antibiotics - which attack bacteria - are powerless in the face of this vomiting bug.
How to stop the bug spreading
Norovirus is spread through close contact with someone who has the illness, touching surfaces that are contaminated with the bug and eating contaminated food.
You are most infectious within the first 48 hours of your symptoms starting.
But, there are ways people can reduce the risk of catching it and passing it on to others.
"It's highly contagious and so it's important to practise good hygiene by thoroughly washing hands with soap and warm water," Mr Phin said.
"Stay away from places like hospitals and care homes, and avoid preparing food or having close contact with others when you're ill, to limit the spread of norovirus."
If a member of your family falls ill with the bug, it's vital to thoroughly disinfect all surfaces they come into contact with, to limit the spread of the virus.
Mr Phin said if you suspect you've had norovirus and have suffered diarrhoea and vomiting, do not prepare food until 48 hours after your symptoms have disappeared.
"We advise you should avoid visiting GP surgeries, care homes and hospitals if you have symptoms," he added.
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"If anyone has symptoms and is concerned they should contact NHS 111 or talk to their GP on the phone."
One of the best ways to protect against norovirus and to help prevent infection is by practising good hygiene.
This includes thorough hand washing with soap and warm water, especially after using the toilet and before eating or preparing food.