THE Health Protection Agency has issued advice on how to avoid the vomiting illness norovirus that traditionally becomes much more prevalent in the winter months.

Norovirus infection is the most common cause of vomiting and diarrhoea in the UK, affecting an estimated 600,000 to one million people every year.

The symptoms are severe vomiting and or diarrhoea.

It is generally a short-lived illness from which the majority of people recover in 12 to 60 hours without treatment other than rest and taking plenty of drinks to replace lost liquids.

The illness is highly infectious and great care needs to be taken to prevent its spread. When introduced to hospitals, residential care homes and other establishments where people live or work closely together it can have major consequences such as the closure of hospital wards to new admissions, NHS staff going off work sick and patient appointments being postponed.

Dr Ken Lamden, NW regional HPA lead for gastrointestinal illness said: “It isn’t easy to prevent norovirus infection spreading when it gets into hospitals, residential care homes and schools.

“All too often it leads to the closure of hospital wards to new admissions, NHS staff going off work sick and appointments being postponed.

“The impact on individuals and institutions can be limited with simple actions.

“People with the infection should stay at home, ensure that their personal hygiene is good, particularly hand-washing and avoid contact with others where possible.

“However, the elderly and very young can sometimes get more severe infection or become dehydrated.

“If that should be the case, they or their family, friends or the people who care for them should telephone their GP service or ask NHS Direct for advice.”

The NHS Direct telephone number is 0845-4647.