Public health England are offering advice on how to avoid catching the winter vomiting bug, Norovirus.

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Public Health England (PHE) West Midlands advice on staying flu and norovirus free over the festive season
PHE West Midlands is seeing a sharp increase in norovirus (winter vomiting bug) outbreaks across the region
Washing hands frequently and thoroughly with warm water and soap can protect against the spread of norovirus
Flu levels are beginning to rise in the West Midlands
PHE advises it is not too late to get the flu vaccine and activates the Catch It, Bin It, Kill It campaign
If people experience flu like symptoms they should access NHS 111 in the first instance rather than go directly to their GP surgery or hospital
As the festive season fast approaches, outbreaks of flu and norovirus (commonly known as the winter vomiting bug) are beginning to increase across the West Midlands. The flu season has started earlier this year and although that in itself does not mean we will have more cases we can all do our bit to prevent it spreading. The latest surveillance data from PHE shows that GP consultations for Influenza-like Illness have risen by 24% from week 48 to week 49, while the impact of flu on hospitals was at moderate levels. We have also seen more cases of the winter vomiting bug than this time last year and these have particularly affected schools.

PHE West Midlands is urging people to take steps to enjoy the winter celebrations bug free.

Dr Helen Carter, Deputy Director, PHE West Midlands said: “We are beginning to see more cases of flu and norovirus. This isn’t unusual – we do expect to see this level of germs circulating in the community at this time of year. The good news is that by taking some simple steps you can help fight away festive flu and say no to norovirus. The first thing to say is that it is not too late to get your flu jab. The vaccine is safe and is the best defence against flu. Flu is a miserable experience and can be serious for young children, elderly people and those with underlying medical conditions.

“The delays in the vaccine delivery from the manufacturers for the nasal spray for 2-3 year olds has now been resolved and children will be vaccinated as part of their school programme. However, if your child is in the “at risk” category with underlying medical conditions then do contact your GP to arrange an appointment to receive the vaccine there.

“If you do have flu like symptoms and need urgent medical advice then please contact NHS 111 in the first instance. It is free to phone, access on line (www.111.nhs.uk) or through the NHSApp (available on IoS and android), and you will be given advice based on your symptoms and circumstances. This way you get the help you need and do not put vulnerable people in hospitals and GP surgeries at risk.

“After vaccination, good hand hygiene is the next most effective step to ward off viral illnesses like flu and is the only protection against norovirus. PHE has relaunched the “Catch It, Bin It Kill It” campaign this winter. By using tissues to catch the bugs when you cough or sneeze, washing hands often with warm water and soap and binning used tissues as quickly as possible we can keep infections at arm’s length.”

Dr Helen Carter added: “Norovirus is very unpleasant and highly infectious. Do not gift this, this Christmas. It causes diarrhoea and vomiting, and the bug can live on hard surfaces such as kitchen tops for hours. It spreads very quickly in places where people mix together in close proximity, such as schools, nurseries, care homes and hospitals.

“If you are unfortunate enough to catch norovirus you must stay away from hospitals and care homes until you are symptom free for at least 48 hours as norovirus can seriously affect vulnerable patients. Most people will make a full recovery fairly quickly, but it is important to drink plenty of fluids during that time to prevent dehydration especially in the very young, and elderly.”

Dr Dave Briggs, Medical Director, Systems Improvement and Professional Standards, at NHS England and NHS Improvement – Midlands, said: “Our health services across the West Midlands are seeing rising numbers of people needing care. This advice from Public Health England is vital in ensuring we’re all playing our part when it comes to limiting the spread of these illnesses, helping to relieve pressure in our hospitals and GP surgeries and freeing up clinical time for those who really need it. Anyone with a health concern which isn’t life threatening can contact NHS 111 via phone, online or the NHS App, or visit their local pharmacist, where trained professionals will advise on the best course of action for your condition or symptoms.”

Finally, t is easy to play your part in stopping the spread of norovirus this winter – simply 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 homes

R Regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water, especially after using the toilet, and before eating or preparing food

Only hand-washing will prevent spread of norovirus – alcohol hand gels DON’T kill the virus