Gastroenteritis symptoms: Warning over winter bug causing 72 hours of hell

Gastroenteritis symptoms: Warning over winter bug causing 72 hours of hell

In the winter it is not unusual to experience illness more often than usual. Colds, flu and Covid become more prevalent in the colder weather due to several factors including the fact we spend more time indoors in groups.

This year, cases of Covid and flu have remained high. However, the NHS has also reported a concerning rise in cases of norovirus, a winter bug that can cause some unpleasant symptoms.

As reported, in the last week of November an average of 351 people were in hospital with symptoms of the bug every day, compared to 126 in the same period in 2022.

Known as the “winter vomiting bug” it typically causes symptoms such as nausea and diarrhoea. It is also one of the most common causes of another bug called gastroenteritis.

Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach and intestinal lining, which causes diarrhoea and vomiting. According to Quebec Health, symptoms usually last up to 72 hours, however, they can persist for as long as 10 days.

The health body explains: “Norovirus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in adults. In children, rotavirus is more often involved.

“These viruses circulate mainly in the fall and winter. Other viruses and bacteria can spread stomach flu, especially in people travelling abroad.

“Gastroenteritis is extremely contagious. You can avoid spreading and catching it through simple hygiene measures such as washing your hands.”

Diarrhoea is a common symptom of gastroenteritis. This is classified as “at least” three liquid or semi-liquid stools every 24 hours, or stool that is “more abundant and frequent than usual”.

Sufferers may also experience abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting.

Other symptoms that may “sometimes appear”, include:

  • Mild fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Change in general health (weakness, drowsiness, irritability, mental confusion).

Quebec Health says: “Symptoms of gastroenteritis usually last 24 to 72 hours.

“However, they can last up to 10 days if the stomach flu began while you were travelling abroad or upon your return.”

In most cases the bug will clear up with rest at home. It is important to drink plenty of fluids during this time.

Quebec Health says: “Gastroenteritis is generally not serious. Most people take care of themselves at home and self-heal without taking medicines.”

But you should go to A&E if:

  • You have a lot of blood in your stool, or your stool is black
  • You have diarrhoea with intense abdominal pain
  • You have diarrhoea, extreme thirst, have not urinated in 12 hours
  • You are vomiting frequently, and it does not slow down after four to six hours
  • There is stool or blood (red in colour or resembling coffee grounds) in your vomit
  • Your general health is deteriorating (weakness, drowsiness, irritability, confusion).

How to protect yourself

People with the bug are usually contagious when experiencing symptoms, especially if these are “severe”.

But they may remain contagious for a few weeks after the symptoms have gone.

Gastroenteritis can be transmitted:

  • Through consumption of contaminated water or food
  • Through direct contact with a contaminated person, for example by kissing or shaking hands, if the person’s hands are contaminated with microbes from stools
  • Through indirect contact with contaminated people or objects
  • By eating food that has been contaminated through handling by an infected person
  • By touching surfaces or objects that have been touched or handled by an infected person (example: door handles, utensils, clothes, toys)
  • By touching surfaces or objects contaminated by stool or vomit
  • Through breathing droplets spewed into the air, by vomit for instance.

Therefore, to protect yourself you should:

  • Wash your hands often including before, during and after preparing meals, after using the toilet or having helped a child use the toilet and after changing a child’s diaper
  • Disinfect toilet seats and surfaces or objects that might have been contaminated by stool or vomit (such as toys or things that the child puts in their mouth)
  • Put toddlers in superabsorbent diapers to prevent leakage
  • Prepare and clean feeding bottles under the cleanest possible conditions.

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