How to manage norovirus in healthcare and social care settings

How to manage norovirus in healthcare and social care settings

Norovirus, known commonly as the “winter vomiting bug” though it is a year-round bug, causes gastrointestinal infection – leading to cases of diarrhoea and vomiting. The virus is notorious for its ability to rapidly spread and cause outbreaks, a serious concern for healthcare and social care providers like Better Healthcare.

For most people, symptoms of the norovirus lead to a severely unpleasant experience that lasts for a day or two – with the main treatment being rest. But to elderly people, especially those who require support from social and healthcare professionals, the more serious side effects of the virus can make it dangerous if left untreated.

Better Healthcare’s nurses and care staff are fully trained in how to deal with norovirus outbreaks. In this article, we’re going to discuss the norovirus, its impact on the fields of health and social care, and steps that healthcare professionals take to reduce the impact of norovirus in care environments.

What is norovirus?

The norovirus is actually a collection of viruses that can make sufferers feel incredibly sick in a short period of time. The virus tends to last only a couple of days and is a common cause of food poisoning and acute gastroenteritis (i.e. infectious diarrhoea). As it affects the stomach, vomiting is also a common symptom alongside stomach cramps and dehydration.

The virus is highly contagious and can be easily transmitted from person to person via contact with someone who exhibits the symptoms. This generally happens via the faecal-oral route. The pathogens in the faecal particles can be transmitted via food – meaning that infected kitchen staff can unwittingly spread the virus to a mass amount of people, causing food poisoning. It can also be transmitted to a person by merely handling a surface with the infected particles and then putting that hand in their mouth.

How it affects social and healthcare services

For those working in the healthcare and social care professions – such as doctors, nurses and carers – the norovirus is a serious concern. This is because nurses and carers generally support a good number of clients in a care home on a daily basis, and care professionals can unwittingly be infected by a client with the norovirus. This can then lead to the virus being passed onto other clients – either in a residential home, nursing home or in any home setting where care is delivered. This is further complicated by the fact that so many social care services are delivered to elderly people.

Both children and older people are more vulnerable to suffering from the symptom of dehydration due to generally having weakened immune systems. As a result, it is of vital importance that those vulnerable to the norovirus are – once infected – kept well hydrated with water, juice or oral rehydration fluids (ORFs). Sports and energy drinks, however, do not count due to lacking the nutritional values to adequately remedy dehydration.

Solving reduced care capacity

Not only can an outbreak of norovirus spread around social and healthcare settings, but it can drastically reduce the amount of staff available to provide services to clients. With nurses and carers having to take time off to prevent further spread of the virus, this puts a lot of strain on healthcare services to adequately cover these absences.

Thankfully, this is an area where Better Healthcare can help. We are able to provide fully qualified, reliable cares to step in and provide support to your clients in residential, nursing and home care settings.

Managing norovirus in care settings

As set out by the Health and Social Care Act 2008, all service providers should have a policy for controlling outbreaks of infections that are communicable.

Staff in health and social care settings should be provided with proper training to effectively define and deal with an outbreak of the norovirus. This includes information on best practice for protection from person-to-person and environmental contamination, the organisation’s policy on dealing with an outbreak and, in a residential or nursing home setting, advising visiting family and friends. Such guidelines and procedures for dealing with an outbreak should be set out by an organisation’s Infection Prevention and Control Team (IPCT).

Once staff have a suspicion that a client may be infected, staff should isolate the person so that the symptoms can be observed and a diagnosis can be provided by a relevant healthcare professional. While the norovirus is not designated as a ‘notifiable disease’ under current legislation, an outbreak of food poisoning (which can be caused by the norovirus) has been defined as a ‘notifiable disease’. As a result, food poisoning outbreaks must be reported to Public Health England (PHE) or the relevant bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

At Better Healthcare, our staff and carers strive to identify areas that have likely been contaminated by pathogens – and follow procedures to properly isolate, disinfect, clean and/or dispose of any surfaces or garments thought to have come into contact with infected particles. Regular usage of hand sanitiser or anti-bacterial soap by staff can also help to prevent the virus from spreading.

Better Healthcare is here to help

If your organisation’s ability to provide health, home, live-in or social care services has been severely affected by an outbreak, Better Healthcare is ready to step in and offer support with dedicated nursing and care staff.

Our staff are trained to high standards, including on matters of outbreak control, to ensure easy integration into your current infrastructure – minimising disruption to your clients and services.

For more information on how Better Healthcare Services can help you with any staffing issues that you may have, please call today on 0800 668 1234 or contact our local office today:

This post is not health advice and should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. It is intended to provide information of general interest about current healthcare issues.