Winter vomiting virus (norovirus)

What causes viral diarrhoea and vomiting (also known as winter vomiting)?

Winter vomiting is a term used for a type of diarrhoea and/or vomiting that spreads like a cold/flu (gastric flu) and is more common in the colder winter months. It is caused by an infection with a virus called norovirus. Outbreaks are common in the UK and hospital patients, staff and visitors can be affected.

How will I know I have winter vomiting?

Patients with the winter vomiting infection have sickness (vomiting) and/or diarrhoea for two to three days. They might also have a raised temperature, headaches and aching limbs. Although it can be unpleasant for the patient, the illness is usually mild and will get better without antibiotics.

Why is winter vomiting a problem?

Winter vomiting is quite infectious and can spread quickly from person to person. In hospitals, it can quickly spread between visitors, patients and staff and cause an interruption to the normal service.

How can hospitals prevent winter vomiting?

When there are high levels of this infection in the community, it is very difficult to prevent patients, staff and visitors bringing the infection into hospital. When we have one or more patients on a ward who have a suspected infection, we are careful to identify it early and take steps to prevent it from spreading.

If I have had winter vomiting recently, can I come into hospital?

We always ask people who have any type of infection to wait until they are free from the infection before coming into hospital. This is to prevent spreading the infection to other patients on the wards.

Anyone who is unwell or suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting should not visit the hospital (including the food areas) until they have been free from symptoms for 48 hours.

If I have winter vomiting, how will this affect my care in hospital?

If you become unwell on the ward, we will continue to provide good care for you but also try to prevent other patients, visitors and staff from becoming infected. We might need to delay some planned investigations or operations until you are feeling better. Until you recover, you might be moved to a side room or an area with other patients who have the same illness.

Can I still have visitors?

If you have winter vomiting, you can have visitors but it may be better to delay their visit until you are feeling better. This is especially important if they are children, frail or elderly. If you have any concerns about visiting, please discuss these with your nurse or doctor.

Are there any extra precautions for visitors to take?

We want to keep our ward areas hygienic and free from infection. It is important that everyone who comes to the hospital washes their hands regularly and uses the alcohol hand rub before and after seeing patients.

Visitors who come to see patients should be extra careful not to carry any infection in or out of the ward areas. Ward staff will let visitors know if they need to take any extra precautions, such as wearing a mask, before they enter the bay area. 

What treatment will I have for winter vomiting?

You do not need to have antibiotics to treat winter vomiting as it should get better on its own. If we suspect it might be something else or want to be extra sure, we might test a stool sample to make sure you do not have any other problems. The most important thing we can do for you while you have symptoms is to make sure you have plenty of fluids.

Once the infection has disappeared, your treatment will continue as before.

How will hospital staff reduce the risk of infection?

Our staff wear gloves and aprons while they are caring for you and when dealing with your body fluids. They are careful to wash their hands effectively after contact with infected patients and their surroundings.

It is important that ward areas are kept hygienic at all times. If there are patients with the winter vomiting virus on our wards, we take extra measures when cleaning the ward areas and toilets to remove the virus from the environment.

You can also find out more information about norovirus on NHS Choices