Noroviruses are a group of very contagious viruses (germs) that can cause gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines) with diarrhoea, stomach pain and vomiting. Gastroenteritis caused by noroviruses is commonly referred to as “viral gastro”, “gastric flu”, and “winter vomiting”.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms of norovirus usually begin about 24-48 hours after eating the germ, but they can happen as soon as 12 hours after. Symptoms include:
- Three or more bowel movements in 24 hours and/or
- Vomiting three or more times in last 24 hours and/or
- Loose stools or vomiting with other symptoms, such as nausea, fever, abdominal pain or cramps, or blood and/or mucus in the stool
- Sometimes people also get a high temperature, chills (feeling cold and shivery), headaches, muscle pains and tiredness.
This usually lasts only one to two days, but it can last longer. Children will usually vomit more than adults.
How is norovirus spread?
Noroviruses are found in the faeces or vomit of people who have this germ. It can be passed on in several different ways, including:
- Eating food or drinking liquids contaminated with this germ.
- Touching surfaces or objects that have been contaminated with this germ and then putting that hand in your mouth.
- Small airborne particles from projectile vomit which settle on people, food or surfaces.
- Contact with a person with symptoms of this germ (for example, when caring for an infected person, or sharing food and cooking utensils with someone who has the illness).
Noroviruses can survive for long periods in the environment and are very common in the community. They are easily spread where people are gathered together such as residential homes, hospitals and day-care centres.
Things that may help spread the germ include:
- Frequent, close patient-staff contact.
- Contact with people who get sick easily such as the elderly, small children, patients with compromised immune systems.
- Moving patients between wards and other patient areas.
- Poor housekeeping and cleaning.
Anyone can get the norovirus germ. There are many different strains of this germ, so you can catch it many times during your life.
Who is at an increased risk of getting this germ?
Children in hospital who:
- have other health conditions that make them sick.
- have been in a hospital or care facility previously.
- have been treated with antibiotics.
- who are immunosuppressed.
In the community, anyone can be affected, however, the children at highest risk of getting this germ are often in areas where frequent contact occurs, such as schools, dormitories and child-care centres.
How can you prevent the spread of norovirus?
If your child is in the Queensland Children’s Hospital with norovirus and you are staying with them, you should follow these guidelines to minimise the risk of spreading the infection:
- Carefully follow hand washing guidelines.
- Ask staff for help to clean up if there is vomiting.
- Use the bathroom in your child’s room instead of shared parent bathrooms.
- Do not use the parent lounge or kitchen if your child has diarrhoea and vomiting: you could have this germ and pass it on even if you do not have symptoms.
- Ask your nurse to help you to look after your child.
- Talk to your nurse about leaving the ward to get some fresh air regularly.
- When going out for fresh air, please do not mix in areas with lots of people as there may be some immunocompromised children around who could pick up the germ easily.
- Commonly touched and shared items may be a source of these germs. Hand hygiene will help to prevent transmission.
Note: While your child has norovirus, and you are staying with them your meals will be provided for you.
When should you clean your hands?
Always clean hands:
- before handling anything that goes in your mouth or your child’s mouth.
- before preparing or eating food or drinks.
- after going to the toilet or changing nappies.
- after using a tissue or handkerchief.
- after handling rubbish.
- after handling dirty washing.
- before leaving the patient room.
What happens if your child has norovirus?
Our staff will take special precautions to minimise risk of spreading norovirus to other patients, such as placing your child in a single room and using personal protective equipment such as gloves and gowns while caring for your child. Wearing the gloves and gowns help reduce this risk of spreading the germ to other children in the hospital.
Your child will be asked to stay in their room at all times unless they are receiving tests and treatment. They can have visitors from the school and entertainment services if they are not able to leave their room.
If your child has norovirus can they have visitors?
Norovirus can affect young children, the elderly and people who have certain long-term health problems. It is a good idea to limit the number of visitors your child has to protect your family and friends from the infection. Please tell our nursing staff if someone who has a long-term health problem wants to visit your child. Your visitors will be asked to wash their hands after visiting your child, so that they do not spread the germ to others. You can also encourage visitors to wash their hands before and after visiting.
When can my child return to school, pre-school / kindergarten, or team sports?
Your child should not go to child care, school or work for at least 48 hours after diarrhoea or vomiting stops.
Patient information guides on MRSA are available from:
- The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)
- Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care
When to seek help
See your GP if your child has any common symptoms.
In an emergency, call Triple Zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
If you're not sure whether to go to an emergency department, call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) and speak to a registered nurse.
Last updated: October 2023