PEOPLE are being urged to play their part in stopping the spread of dreaded norovirus this winter.

Public Health England (PHE), NHS England and NHS Improvement are warning residents about the highly contagious bug which can wreak havoc in schools, hospitals and workplaces.

Norovirus can live on hard surfaces for hours and spreads very quickly through environments where people are mingling closely. Also called the 'winter vomiting bug', norovirus causes vomiting and diarrhoea and can be very unpleasant.

PHE says the best way for people to protect themselves and others from catching the sickness bug is to wash their hands thoroughly with warm water and soap, and to keep the environment they live and work in clean.

Alcohol or antibacterial hand sanitisers are a popular choice for people wanting to protect themselves from the bugs that circulate during winter but PHE warns that they are not an effective protection against norovirus.

Most people will recover from the bug within a few days and can return to work or school. However, if norovirus is introduced unintentionally into places such as schools, nurseries, hospitals and care homes, the illness can spread incredibly quickly and affect vulnerable people.

To prevent the spread of norovirus this winter people are being urged to think 'NORO':

  • N - No visits to hospitals, care homes and GP surgeries if you are suffering from symptoms of norovirus - send someone else to visit loved ones until you are better
  • O - Once you’ve been symptom-free for at least 48 hours, you’re safe to return to work, school or visit hospitals and care home
  • R - Regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water, especially after using the toilet, and before eating or preparing food
  • O - Only hand-washing will prevent spread of norovirus - alcohol hand gels don't kill the virus

Dominic Mellon, consultant in health protection for PHE South West, said: "Levels of norovirus are increasing in line with expected levels so far this winter but many schools, nurseries, hospitals and care homes across the south west have reported outbreaks in recent weeks.

"We work closely with these institutions throughout the year to ensure that they have the right information and guidance to help prevent the spread of infection, but it’s important for everyone to remember that we all have a role to play in reducing the spread of winter bugs.

"The symptoms of norovirus include suddenly feeling sick, projectile vomiting, and watery diarrhoea. The symptoms appear one to two days after you become infected and typically last for up to two or three days.

"Anyone who has been infected should stay off work or school for 48 hours after their symptoms have ceased."