BY MICHAEL GRANT Image : AJC1 – Flickr We’ve had swine flu, bird flu and even dog flu scares in the last 10 years – and just when you thought the coast was clear there’s a new virus on the horizon that threatens to make your exam revision season even worse: Norovirus. A virus is an incredibly small particle, made up of genetic material in a protein coat. Interestingly, viruses aren’t technically considered “alive” by many, as they require a host to replicate – think of this a bit like the ‘chestburster’ scene from Alien. A virus particle infects a cell in your body and uses that cell’s own machinery to produce many copies of itself allowing it to go on to infect other cells within that host or spread from that host to infect other individuals. This year talk of the Norovirus seems more popular than 50 Shades of Grey. However, there’s nothing particularly special about the Norovirus at all. Norovirus is also known as “Winter Vomiting Bug”, which pretty much sums it up nicely. It’s highly contagious and more common in winter when people are indoors and in closer contact with each other. It is transmitted from person-to-person or, usually, through contaminated food that comes into contact with someone with the virus. To become infected only a very few particles compared to other viruses need to enter the body, usually through the mouth. It survives the acidity of your stomach and goes on to infect the cells that line your intestine – called enterocytes – and causes inflammation of the tissue of the gut wall producing gastroenteritis or “stomach flu”. While it is true that the infection can sometimes produce flu-like symptoms, if you actually have the Norovirus then it’s going to be obvious as the main
symptoms are both vomiting and diarrhoea. And, unfortunately, the strongest thing a doctor can prescribe is some kind words, because antibiotics are ineffective in treating Norovirus. While it is true that misery loves company, the best thing that you can do for yourself or anyone lucky enough to be living with you if you have the infection is to minimise the chances of it spreading. The infectious particles of the virus are present in the faecal matter of the infected, which means that if you’re lucky enough to live in a 2-toilet pad or an en-suite Elms room then you should best avoid using the same bathroom. However, don’t think just turning your flatmates room into a modern-day leper colony will keep you safe because, due to the – to put it as nicely as I can – ‘explosive’ nature of how the virus particles leave the bodies of the infected, the disease can become air-borne. This makes thorough hand washing a necessity – I’m talking a full soapy lather with some warm water and a good 30 seconds of vigorous scrubbing. For all you OCD readers out there thinking, “Good thing I have my trusty hand sanitiser”, well think again because the particular structure of the Norovirus makes is resilient to alcohol-based cleaning products. Some people can act as “carriers” for the virus but show no symptoms, making it important not to let your guard down even when out and about. So, if it’s health you want then; good old-fashioned hand washing, not sharing food and cleaning the surfaces that sufferers have come into contact with boiling water and some bleach is your best bet for avoiding infection. If you do happen to get it, then it’s really not the end of the world if you do the following: Take paracetamol for the fever and pain, take Imodium sparingly for the diarrhoea if you absolutely have to leave the house, drink plenty of water (or, if you can, ginger ale or non-alcoholic ginger beer as they help to reduce nausea), avoid spicy food (or just anything from Gilgamesh) and maintain a plentiful supply of loo roll. But, of course, if your symptoms persist more than 3 to 4 days or begin to worsen in that time then you shouldn’t hesitate in contacting your GP or the local out-of-hours service for advice.