Norwalk Virus – The Winter Vomiting Bug


Norwalk virus, otherwise known as the Norovirus, is one of the leading causes of severe gastroenteritis in the UK and around the world.

It’s also known as the “winter vomiting bug” as cases tend to increase during this time of the year but the disease can affect anyone at any time.

It results in roughly 685 million cases of disease and 200,000 deaths each year around the world occurring in both developed and developing countries.

In the USA, it accounts for around half of all foodborne disease outbreaks and was originally named after the city of Norwalk, Ohio, where a notable outbreak occurred in 1968. Because Norwalk virus is highly contagious, preventing the spread is a major priority for healthcare authorities when there is an outbreak.

What Is The Norwalk Virus?

Norwalk virus is a cause of gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and the small intestine.

Norovirus causes non-bloody diarrhoea, vomiting, and tummy pain and generally makes you unwell for around 3 days.

Once the virus has entered your body, usually through the faecal-oral route, symptoms tend to develop between within 12 and 48 hours.

It is a very common illness and, while it generally doesn’t result in major complications,  older individuals, young children, and those with existing health issues may suffer more.

The Norwalk virus can survive for extended periods of time outside of a human host and sometimes for weeks on certain types of surfaces.

It can live for years in contaminated still water and a 2006 study found that it was still alive on food preparation surfaces 7 days after contamination.

Risk factors for the Norwalk virus include:

  • Unsanitary food preparation
  • Sharing close living quarters with others
  • Unhygienic ways of living and looking after yourself

How Is The Norwalk Virus Spread?

The Norwalk virus spreads very easily through either contaminated food or water or via person to person contact.

If a surface or item of food has particles of the virus on it, they can get into your body through your mouth and infect you.

The virus may be spread through tiny particles of mucus or faecal matter in the air which have been expelled by an infected person. It’s important to stay away from an infected individual and to keep a high level of hygiene if you share living quarters.

If someone has the Norwalk virus, they are highly infectious from when their symptoms start until around 48 hours after their symptoms stop.

Due to its high level of contagiousness, Norwalk can spread quickly in public places such as care homes, hospitals and schools.

The Norwalk virus cannot be vaccinated against because the strains are always changing and, for that reason, your body is also unable to build up resistance to it. This means that it’s also possible to catch the Norwalk virus more than once. 

What Are The Symptoms?

Common symptoms among Norwalk virus sufferers include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Watery diarrhoea (not bloody)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of taste (in some cases)
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Low grade fever

Norwalk virus is very unpleasant for those infected by it but the symptoms generally only last up to 3 days before you’ll make a full recovery.

The Norwalk virus isn’t dangerous for most people who contract it. Particular care has to be taken by those who are immunocompromised – for example, for those with a supressed immune system or suffering from another disease, it can become a more long-term infection.

How Can We Prevent The Spread Of Norwalk Virus?

It is not 100% possible to avoid catching Norwalk virus as it only takes minimal exposure to become infected. However, there are precautions we can all take to prevent the spread if you think you have come into contact with an infected person or if you believe you have the virus yourself:

  • Keep washing your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water, especially after using the toilet and before preparing food. Hand gels are not 100% effective at killing the virus
  • Wash any clothing or bedding that an infected person has slept in at 60°C to kill the virus
  • Disinfect any surfaces or objects which an infected person has touched with a bleach-based household cleaner
  • Avoid sharing towels and flannels and, if possible, use a separate toilet and bathroom until the 48 period post-infection has passed
  • Flush the toilet with the lid down to avoid spread of the contaminated droplets in the air and clean after use with a bleach-based cleaner
  • Avoid eating raw, unwashed produce if possible and if you eat seafood such as oysters, ensure they are from a reliable source
  • If you have Norwalk virus, stay at home for the duration of your illness and for at least 48 hours after symptoms stop. Don’t go to school, work, or visit other people

How The PureAir Can Halt Transmission Of The Norwalk Virus

The Norwalk virus can survive for long periods of time on both hard and soft surfaces. Asides from regularly disinfecting areas with a bleach-based cleaning product, there are other precautions you can take.

Installing a PureAir purification system to disinfect your indoor environment gives you extra peace of mind.

The PHI (Photohydroionization) advanced oxidisation technology used in the PureAir purification system, manufactured by one of the worlds leading specialists in air, water and food purification – RGF Environmental, has been proven to have a 4-log reduction of 99.99% of surface bacteria and viruses.

RGF’s PHI system has been approved by the USDA, FSIS and FDA for use in food processing plants as well as hospitals, governments all over the world, and the European Union.

The PureAir system works by emitting ionised hydroperoxides into the air from its integrated PHI Cell. These hydroperoxides are natural cleaning agent that occur in our environment naturally.

This process kills harmful virus cells which may be floating in the atmosphere or living on indoor surfaces thereby reducing the chance of the virus entering your body. They operate 24/7 to increase your wellbeing by making the air safer and odour-free.

By installing a PureAir system in your home, office, or public building you are actively helping in the reduction of the spread of viruses like the Norwalk virus and protecting and promoting the health of those inside.

For more information, please email or call us on 01202 554 200 where a member of our team would be pleased to offer further information.