Teachers and families have been urged to take precautions to reduce outbreaks of the winter sickness bug as schools prepare to reopen their doors to pupils next week.
As coronavirus restrictions have eased, health officials have been alerted to a surge in norovirus outbreaks, particularly in nurseries and child care settings.
A report by Public Health England (PHE) warns that further rises could be seen in coming months.
Now schools in England are preparing to return for the autumn term, PHE has urged people to follow simple steps to reduce the risk of getting the bug.
Dr Lesley Larkin, surveillance lead for the Gastrointestinal Pathogens Unit at PHE, told the PA news agency: “We have seen increases in norovirus cases as Covid-19 restrictions have eased and people mix more.
“As children head back to school next week, it’s important to remember simple steps we can all take to limit the spread of this unpleasant bug and reduce the chances of outbreaks.
“Stay at home if you are experiencing norovirus symptoms and do not return to work or send children to school or nursery until 48 hours after symptoms have cleared.
“As with Covid-19, handwashing is really important to help stop the spread of this bug, but remember, unlike for Covid-19 alcohol gels do not kill off norovirus so soap and water is best.”
Earlier in the summer, routine surveillance detected a rise in outbreaks of the vomiting bug, particularly in early year educational settings.
Cases started to increase in June and have been “notably higher” in under fives, PHE said.
During July cases were “43% higher than the average of the previous five seasons prior to the emergence of Covid-19”, PHE said.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), told PA: “There is certainly a risk that an increase in Covid infections and other winter illnesses will disrupt education and it is crucial that the Government is ready to provide additional support to schools and colleges to manage the situation if necessary.”
Addressing the possible resurgence of winter bugs, he added: “It is certainly something which needs to be carefully monitored and once again emphasises the importance of the Government getting on top of the issue of ventilation in schools as this is a good way of preventing bugs in general.
“We’re pleased the Government is providing carbon dioxide monitors but it must also be prepared to put investment into ventilation systems where they are needed.”
Norovirus is highly infectious and causes vomiting and diarrhoea but usually passes in a couple of days.
It is easily transmitted through contact with infected individuals or contaminated surfaces.
PHE’s five top tips to “beat the bug” include:
– If you have symptoms then stay at home until 48 hours after symptoms stop.
– Frequent handwashing with soap – alcohol gels do not kill norovirus.
– Enhanced cleaning after a person has been sick.
– Affected people should avoid cooking and preparing meals for 48 hours after symptoms have stopped.
– Wash any clothing or bedding using detergent and at 60C.