Norovirus and rotavirus are in the headlines again, with a large outbreak of norovirus which has affected over 300 people. So where does it come from?
Well the answer isn’t all that savoury – it is poo or vomit! People carry norovirus (sometimes without knowing about it). It is spread by contamination from poo or by infection from vomit.
Not very attractive, but here is how it happens:
- Faeces in sewage gets into rivers or estuaries and then is consumed by oysters which are eaten by us
- Sewage effluent gets used for irrigation of crops which are not washed properly and the norovirus gets eaten on salad items
- Food workers fail to wash their hands after going to the toilet and transfer norovirus to ready-to-eat food
- Carriers don’t wash their hands after using the toilet and transfer the virus to other hand contact sites which are then picked up by unsuspecting people who transfer to their mouths:
- licking fingers
- eating crisps and nuts / finger food
- biting nails
- Someone vomits near food and the virus is transferred on to it
- Someone vomits and the virus lands on surfaces and is transferred to hands and then to mouth (see above)
So what are the top tips to prevent problems?
- Think about where your hands have been before you eat. All those surfaces touched by people who may not have washed their hands after using the loo, hands shaken, toilet doors touched. It makes sense to follow what your mum probably always told you to do – wash your hands before dinner!
- If you can’t get to a basin to wash your hands, then use hand gel – check the label for the anti-bacterial and anti-viral ones!
- I’d think carefully about eating a raw oyster (which is easy for me as I don’t like them) – if you do want to risk it, it may help if they come from a good source (some are even guaranteeing norovirus free oysters). If you are more vulnerable to infection, for example, over 60, under 5, pregnant, immunocompromised or taking ant-acid medication, you will be more susceptible to food poisoning. So I would give them a miss, or get them grilled with garlic!
- Wash salads, fruit, berries and any food you will eat without cooking. Even bagged salad would probably benefit from a wash.
- Try to avoid habits such as nail biting and eating snacks on public transport unless you clean your hands first.
- If someone vomits at home, then clear up quickly and disinfect surfaces. Dettol Disinfectant spray is tested against rotavirus and will zap this even on soft furnishings. Blitz any hand touch surfaces that may be contaminated, e.g. door handle, stair bannisters and toilet flush handles. Dilute bleach will kill both viruses but obviously be careful about where you use it. Teddies, if they get splattered, will need a wash and a soak in a laundry sanitiser may help if they can’t go in the machine at high temperatures. Wash your hands really well after cleaning up. Any clothing needs to go in a hot wash about 60 or even better 90°C if fabrics can stand it. If you have used a cloth, bin it!
Will antibiotics help me if I am ill?
No! The best thing you can do is protect yourself and your family with a bit of targeted hygiene – and the easiest win is hand washing, you know it makes sense!