SCORES of Coleraine families - including children and the elderly - have been hit by the winter vomiting virus in the past few weeks.
However the Public Health Agency (PHA) say that the prevalance of the seemingly widespread illness, also known as the norovirus, is not unusual for this time of year.
Dr Gerry Waldron, Acting Assistant Director of Public Health (Health Protection) at the PHA, said: “We would expect to experience seasonal rises of the winter vomiting virus as we approach midwinter and this year is no different.
“The winter vomiting virus is a frequent hazard to health that causes unpleasant and brief illness for many people. The most commonly reported symptoms are nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, which can begin suddenly.
“In some people, these are also accompanied by a raised temperature, headache and sore limbs. The illness can last as little as 12 hours or up to three days.
“Treatment is to stay at home, rest, take plenty of fluids, and reduce contact with others, both in the home and at work. It is very important that people who have symptoms do not visit hospitals or their GP surgery.”
Many schools and workplaces in the Coleraine area were affected by the bug and local GP surgeries also had to deal with an influx of calls for treatment and advice.
Dr Waldron emphasised that winter vomiting virus is very infectious and can be easily spread in close-knit communities such as residential or nursing homes, schools, hospitals and workplaces.
“We are reminding people at this time of the year, that this unpleasant virus is active, but there are steps we can all take to protect ourselves and others,” said Dr Waldron.
The risk of infection can be reduced by following these steps:
· Always maintain good personal hygiene, in particular wash your hands after going to the toilet, and before preparing or eating food.
· If you are vomiting or have diarrhoea, don’t visit friends or relatives in hospital or residential and nursing homes, and avoid visiting your GP’s surgery – it is much better to phone in for advice first.
· Stay off school or work, until at least 48 hours after any symptoms stop.
Dr Waldron continued: “The reality for most people is that this is a short-term, unpleasant illness, with most of us getting better within a few days.
“However, we can all play a part in keeping it at bay and protecting more vulnerable people, to whom it can present a more serious risk. The PHA greatly values everyone’s help in following this advice.”