The best way to beat norovirus

Published on Friday, January 04, 2013 - 11:06


LETTERS From David Cole, Chale:

WITH norovirus so widespread, I would like to see better public information as to containing it and what it is.

For example, advising people to use hand-washing facilities at St Mary’s Hospital is good (CP, 21-12-12).

However, urging the use of hand gels may unwittingly spread it. As far as I am aware, hand sanitizers do not kill norovirus.

The best way of getting rid of it is washing hands with soap and water and rinsing well. The soap basically dislodges the virus, rinsing it down the drain. Gels should still be used because they may kill other bugs but should not be used as an alternative to soap and water for norovirus.

Cruise ship passengers complain when the virus is aboard but it is far worse ashore, affecting up to a million people in the UK so far this winter. And it is not new, ashore or at sea.

I was treating patients for viral gastroenteritis 40 years ago when working for P&O. It was not known as norovirus then but basically it was the same thing. Discovered in 1968 in Norwalk, Ohio, the prototype strain was identified in 1972. Norovirus is a group of viruses belonging to the caliciviridae family but new strains emerge, which could be why there is more of it about than usual.

I was in charge of the crew and isolation hospital but cruise ships have only one hospital nowadays so they ask infected passengers to stay in their cabins.

Unlike today, there were no mobile phones or internet so viruses were never reported and there was no litigation culture blaming the ship.

Even if the ship, hospital or other establishments are vigorously cleaned, it only takes one infected person not washing hands properly to spread the virus quickly.

It is not nice catching it, especially on holiday, but although highly contagious, it is just as easy to control if everybody sings from the same hymn sheet and, of course, staying away from St Mary’s, doctors’ surgeries, nursing or residential homes if infected.

As well as a nurse at sea and ashore, I spent 18 years in St Mary’s mortuary, handling every known pathogen, but never caught any because we followed simple hygiene and infection control.

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