Info on this winter’s biggest bug; the norovirus

Though it has been described as “the Ferrari of the virus world” by one British expert, nobody who has caught the norovirus bug is likely to appreciate the comparison. Commonly and not affectionately known as Winter Vomiting Bug, norovirus is seldom life-threatening but extremely unpleasant, and it is getting an early start this year.

This week the Health Protection Agency released figures gleaned from laboratory tests that confirmed at least 3,538 cases of the bug as of the last week in December; last year at that time only 1,934 cases had been confirmed. The Vomiting Bug seems to strike in the winter months, though this year it is cropping up into the summer in Australia, according to the HPA. In the UK the outbreak of attacks has begun about a month earlier than last year.

The symptoms are bad enough: severe, sometimes projectile vomiting and diarrhea are the most frequent, though some cases include headaches, fevers and stomach cramps. Typically the disease runs its course in a couple of days, with the greatest danger being dehydration from loss of fluids.

The HPA reports that there is no known ‘cure’ and not much a doctor can do to alleviate the considerable discomfort. They say: stay home, drink lots of fluids, wash your hands frequently, and as much as possible avoid contact with everyone else.

The biggest problem, according to those who have studied the norovirus for years, is that it’s so hard to kill. Highly contagious, it can be transmitted through almost any contact, and it is extraordinarily resistant to ordinary soaps, even alcohol cleansers.

Ian Goodfellow, a professor of virology at Cambridge University, told reporters that about 20% of Europeans have a mutated gene that makes them resistant to the virus, which is good news for some.

The bad news is that the rest will have to wait and hope that researchers will discover an effective vaccine. However, says Goodfellow, even that will probably need to be tweaked every year, as the norovirus is constantly mutating to create new strains of itself.