Norovirus – A Tummy-turner of a Virus

Norovirus is also known as the winter vomiting bug as it is more common in the winter months but it can occur at any time of the year. Before being called Norovirus is was called Norwalk Agent after the place it was first identified, Norwalk, Ohio.  In 1968 an acute gastroenteritis outbreak occurred in the Bronson Elementary (primary) school of Norwalk. The virus was not identified until 1972 when an electron microscope picked up on the virus particles in some stool (poo) samples that were stored from the outbreak.   The change over from the names occurred officially in 2002 when the name was approved by the ICTV – International committee of taxonomy of viruses. As the Genus name is Norovirus, with a capital N, the ICTV have encouraged the name Norwalk virus to be used by the media and health authorities.  It belongs to the Caliciviridae taxonomical family whose members are responsible for 90% of nonbacterial epidemic gastroenteritis outbreaks.

Norwalk Virus is a small, round structured virus which is made up of a single strand of positive sense RNA, the viral equivalent of DNA.  It is not encased in a protein envelope which is often called a capsid in scientific talks. It is extremely small only 23 – 40nm. Nm means nanometres and you can get a billion nanometres in one meter. Despite how small it is it can take as few as a dozen of these tiny viruses to make you ill.  It is responsible for 7.7 million annual infections in the developed world and 500,000 people are hospitalised each year. In developing countries where sanitation infrastructure like water treatment plants are not in place and hygiene practises are lax or not in place it leads to 9m people being hospitalised and 2m deaths.  Please don’t worry about ending up in hospital when you get ill as this only happens in severe cases where they need to have intravenous (I.V) drip to treat dehydration or if the infected person is very young or quite old.

If you have ever had a tummy bug then you would know how unpleasant it can be. Norwalk virus causes projectile vomiting which isn’t as fun as it sounds, watery diarrhoea as well as causing you to very suddenly feel sick. It can also give you a fever, headaches, a tummy ache and general aches in your arms and legs or making them feel heavy.  As it is a virus not a bacteria there is no cure for it and can only manage your symptoms and luckily it usually only lasts 2 – 3 days.   It is recommended by the NHS to drink plenty of water and if you are showing signs of dehydration such as strongly coloured urine or a very dry mouth to get some rehydration drinks which can be bought in the pharmacy and some shops like Tesco or Asda. If you’re very achy then you can take paracetamol l which will help with a fever as well as aches. There are some medications like Imodium© which will help stop diarrhoea and you can also get anti-emetics (vomiting) tablets from your doctor but since these are only recommended for adults you would need to check with a pharmacist or doctor before you take them.

The virus is transmitted very easily, even just close contact with an infected person can make you ill as the virus particles can be in their breath. Touching a contaminated surface such as a toilet seat or the taps of a sink as well as eating food that an infected person has made or touched without washing their hands. As the virus can last several days outside of the body you can get infected from surfaces and food even after the person has recovered.

its recommended you wait 48 hours after your last bout of sickness or diarrhoea before returning to school. When you’re ill remember to wash your hands with soap and warm water every time you are either sick or poo. Don’t share your towels or cloths with anyone and put your clothes and sheets on a boil wash (or as someone to do it if you don’t know how).  It’s also best to clean the toilet each time you go, including if it was just sick, keep the sink taps disinfected along with any buckets you are using to be sick into. A bleach mixture is usually recommended to make sure all the parts are killed and won’t be lurking waiting for someone to come along and use it.  Unlike some viruses and even some bacterial infections you can catch norovirus over and over again, it’s a bit like the cold as it has quite a few strains and you are only immune to the one strain you caught for 6 months to a maximum of 2 years and you can still get sick if you are infected by a different strain in that time frame.

I hope you all made it through the winter unscathed by such a nasty bug and didn’t end up painting the bathroom with sick like this unfortunate blogger.

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