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Tuesday, 21st March 2023

Winter vomiting bug on the rise – over 390 cases reported so far this year

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The HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) is asking people to be aware of the symptoms of norovirus and to learn how to help stop the spread of infection as cases of the virus are increasing in Ireland. Norovirus, also known as winter vomiting bug, is an easily spread virus that causes sudden onset of vomiting and diarrhoea. 

In the first 10 weeks of 2023 there have been 394 cases of norovirus recorded in Ireland. This is almost four times the number of cases recorded in the first 10 weeks of 2022 (109). 

HSE Public Health Area A (Cavan, Louth, Meath, Monaghan and North Dublin) recorded 80 cases of norovirus in the first 10 weeks of 2023. This is almost three times the number of cases recorded in the first 10 weeks of 2022 (30). Young children and elderly people have been the most affected with over half of cases (56%) aged over 65 years and (20%) of cases aged under 5 years. 

Dr Paul McKeown, HPSC Consultant in Public Health Medicine, HSE says, “Norovirus is very easily spread between people, but it also lasts for a long time on surfaces, and if you touch a surface contaminated with norovirus and then touch your mouth, this can make you sick. Cleaning your hands with soap and water is the best protection against catching norovirus and it is important to note that alcohol hand gels do not work against the virus.  

“People who are ill with norovirus should stay at home and not go to work, or school, and they should not visit nursing homes or hospitals until 48 hours after their symptoms have gone. This is the best way to protect other, often vulnerable people. If you or any family members develop forceful vomiting, do not visit your GP’s surgery without phoning ahead first. It is often impossible to prevent norovirus, however, taking good hygiene measures around someone who is infected can reduce your chance of getting infected.” 

Tips to prevent spread of Norovirus:

  • Frequent handwashingincluding before eating or preparing food and after using the bathroom.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner.
  • Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with virus after an episode of illness (use hot water and soap).
  • Flush or discard any vomit and/or faeces in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is kept clean.

Dr McKeown continues, “Norovirus infection is usually mild and lasts only a day or two. However, young children and elderly people can become very sick. People who get sick with norovirus can still spread the infection after their symptoms have gone and there is no treatment for norovirus infection. 

“As a result of pandemic restrictions, there was very little norovirus reported in the last few years, but over the last number of months, cases are beginning to rise again. In the US and the UK, they have seen quite high levels of norovirus that are continuing to rise. It is possible that levels of norovirus in Ireland will continue to rise further.” 

The public are being urged to visit the HSE website to find out more about the norovirus. In addition, new guidance on managing norovirus in residential care settings has been published by the HPSC here.

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