Norovirus causes diarrhoea and vomiting and is one of the most common stomach bugs in the UK. It's also called the 'winter vomiting bug' because it's more common in winter, although you can catch it at any time of the year.

Norovirus can be very unpleasant but usually clears up by itself in a few days.

You can normally look after yourself or your child at home.

Avoid going to your GP, as norovirus can spread to others very easily. Phone your GP practice or NHS 24 on 111 if you're concerned or need advice.

Immediate action required: Phone 999 or go to A&E if you or your child:

  • vomit blood or have vomit that looks like ground coffee
  • have green vomit (adults)
  • have yellow-green or green vomit (children)
  • might have swallowed something poisonous
  • have a stiff neck and pain when looking at bright lights
  • have a sudden, severe headache or stomach ache

Find your nearest A&E

Urgent advice: Phone 111 now if:

  • you're worried about a baby under 12 months
  • your child stops breast or bottle feeding while they're ill
  • a child under 5 years has signs of dehydration – such as fewer wet nappies
  • you or your child (over 5 years) still have signs of dehydration after using oral rehydration sachets
  • you or your child keep being sick and cannot keep fluid down
  • you or your child have bloody diarrhoea or bleeding from the bottom
  • you or your child have diarrhoea for more than 7 days or vomiting for more than 2 days

Symptoms of norovirus

You're likely to have norovirus if you experience:

Some people also have a slight fever, headaches, painful stomach cramps and aching limbs.

The symptoms appear one to two days after you become infected and typically last for up to two or three days.

How is norovirus spread?

Norovirus spreads very easily in public places such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools.

You can catch it if small particles of vomit or stools (poo) from an infected person get into your mouth through:

  • close contact with someone with norovirus who may breathe out small particles of the virus that you then inhale
  • touching contaminated surfaces or objects, as the virus can survive outside the body for several days
  • eating contaminated food, which can happen if an infected person doesn't wash their hands before preparing or handling food

Norovirus is most infectious from the start of symptoms until 48 hours after all symptoms have stopped. You may also be infectious for a short time before and after this.

You can get norovirus more than once because the virus is always changing and your body is unable to build up long-term resistance to it.

Preventing norovirus

It's not always possible to avoid getting norovirus, but following the advice below can help stop the virus spreading. You should:

  • stay off work or school until at least 48 hours after the norovirus symptoms have stopped
  • avoid visiting anyone in hospital during this time
  • wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water particularly after using the toilet and before preparing or handling food
  • be aware alcohol-based hand gels don't kill the virus

Maintain basic hygiene and cleaning to help stop the spread of norovirus by:

  • disinfecting any surfaces or objects that could be contaminated, using a bleach-based household cleaner.
  • washing any items of clothing or bedding that could have become contaminated separately on a hot wash (60 °C) to ensure the virus is killed.
  • not sharing towels and flannels
  • flushing any poo or vomit in the toilet and cleaning the surrounding area with a bleach-based household cleaner
  • avoiding eating raw, unwashed food
  • only eating oysters from a reliable source as they can carry norovirus

What to do if you have norovirus

If you experience sudden diarrhoea and/or vomiting, the best thing to do is to stay at home until you're feeling better.

There's no treatment for norovirus, so you have to let it run its course.

You don't usually need to get medical advice unless there's a risk of a more serious problem.

To help ease your own or your child’s symptoms drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

You need to drink more than usual to replace the fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhoea – as well as water, adults could also try fruit juice and soup.

Avoid giving fizzy drinks or fruit juice to children as it can make their diarrhoea worse. Babies should continue to feed as usual, either with breast milk or other milk feeds.

You can also:

  • take paracetamol for any fever or aches and pains
  • get plenty of rest
  • use special rehydration drinks, available from community pharmacies if you have signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouth or dark urine

If you feel like eating, try plain foods, such as soup, rice, pasta and bread.

Babies and young children, especially under a year old, have a greater risk of becoming dehydrated.

When to get medical advice

You don't normally need to see your GP if you think you or your child has norovirus, as there's no specific treatment for it.

Antibiotics won't help because norovirus is caused by a virus.

Last updated:
29 September 2023