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Norovirus in food


What is norovirus?

Norovirus is the name given to a group of viruses that can be found in the gut of people.

What illness does it cause?

Norovirus causes gastroenteritis. This illness is not a nationally notifiable disease and doesn’t need to be reported to health authorities unless there is an outbreak.

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms are frequent vomiting and watery diarrhoea, nausea, muscle aches, headaches and low fever. Symptoms usually begin between 24 to 48 hours after a person becomes infected (e.g. after eating contaminated food).

Sometimes infected people have no symptoms.

Most people are sick for one to three days.

Who can get sick?

Anyone can get gastroenteritis from norovirus, even if they’ve had it before.

In very young children, the elderly and people with weak immune systems (e.g. cancer patients) the illness can be more serious due to dehydration.

Where does it come from?

Norovirus can get into water and food from the faeces (poo) or vomit of infected people, for example from contact with sewerage or dirty hands. The virus can stay infectious in the environment for a long time and might not be destroyed by common disinfectants.

Common foods that can be contaminated with norovirus include bivalve molluscan shellfish (e.g. oysters) and food that is ready to eat (won’t be further cooked).

How can people get sick?

  • By eating or drinking contaminated food
  • By touching contaminated objects or surfaces and then touching your mouth (e.g. while eating)
  • From infected people transferring the virus to food, cutlery, glassware and other things they touch

How can illness be prevented?

  • Wash and dry hands thoroughly before preparing and eating food, especially after going to the toilet or changing nappies
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating
  • Anyone who is sick with norovirus should not prepare food for others until 48 hours after vomiting and diarrhoea have stopped


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