Norovirus forces a primary school to shut after 100 children fall ill - but what is the infection?

A primary school was forced to close after a norovirus outbreak left students bedridden. [Photo: Getty]

A norovirus outbreak has forced a primary school to shut after more than 100 children were taken ill.

The Rock Ferry Primary School in Wirral shut its doors today after the “winter vomiting bug” left students bedridden. Too many teachers were also reportedly ill for lessons to go ahead.

With the winter months approaching, Yahoo UK looks at how to avoid the highly-infectious virus and what to do if you catch it.

Norovirus, or the winter vomiting bug, is more common during the cold months. [Photo: Getty]

Norovirus causes the lining of the gut to become inflamed, preventing it from working as it should. As a result, infected people endure watery diarrhoea, as well as vomiting and nausea.

The pathogen spreads very easily from person-to-person, which often leads to outbreaks in places were large groups gather together, like schools or hospitals.

Although the virus can strike at anytime, it is most common in the winter months, with around half of cases occurring between December and February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While it is not entirely clear why this occurs, winter is thought to cause more people to huddle indoors, enabling norovirus to spread, Channel 4 reported. Low temperatures and a lack of sunlight may also slow the rate the virus breaks down.

Norovirus spreads when small particles of vomit or feaces from an infected person enters another’s mouth, NHS Inform reports. This may come about by inhaling the breathe of a patient, touching contaminated objects or eating food handled by someone carrying the pathogen.

Symptoms typically come on between one and two days after a person catches the infection. They are then most likely to pass the virus on from when their symptoms start to 48 hours after they pass.

READ MORE: What Is Norovirus?

Although unpleasant, norovirus is rarely serious, with most just having to rest at home while the infection runs its course.

How should you treat norovirus?

It is important to drink lots of water to replace the fluid lost via vomiting and diarrhoea. Paracetamol can help to relieve any aches and pains, another common symptom of norovirus. If they feel up to eating, patients can nibble on plain food, like pasta and bread.

Rehydration sachets can help if they are showing signs of dehydration, like a dry mouth or dark urine. Anti-vomiting and diarrhoea medication may also be recommended by a pharmacist or GP.

While most cases do not require medical attention, patients should seek advice if they feel dizzy, lose consciousness or stop producing urine, all signs of severe dehydration. NHS Inform recommends people call NHS 111 rather than spreading the infection by going to their GP right away.

Bloody diarrhoea, an inability to keep anything down and a fever above 38°C (100°F) should also raise alarm bells.

And patients should seek help if their symptoms do not pass in a few days, if they have recently been to a country with poor sanitation or if they have a serious condition, like kidney disease or a weak immune system.

The symptoms and treatment advice are similar for both children and adults. In youngsters, also look out for green vomit, pale or mottled skin, and pale hands and feet.

READ MORE: More than 270 passengers sickened by norovirus on Royal Caribbean cruise

Patients should stay off school or work until at least 48 hours after their symptoms have passed.

To prevent norovirus spreading, they should also frequently wash their hands with soap and water, particularly after using the toilet or preparing food.

Surfaces should also be disinfected, as well as bedding and clothing washed in their own cycle. It is also important not to share any cutlery or towels while ill.

Norovirus is not the only pathogen that causes gastroenteritis, making it tricky to monitor.

Inflammation of the gut lining can be caused by accidentally consuming a host of bacteria or viruses, which also spread between people or contaminated surfaces.

One in five people in the UK are said to develop gastroenteritis every year, Bupa statistics show. Norovirus or food poisoning is usually to blame in adults, according to NHS Inform.

Children are more likely to develop the similar rotavirus, with almost every child in the world suffering by the time they turn five, according to Difference.guru.

The main difference between the two is who they infect. Unlike rotavirus, norovirus infects anyone of any age.

Nonetheless, around 200 million children under five worldwide are thought to catch norovirus every year, according to the CDC.

READ MORE: Norovirus is on the rise: what you need to know about the winter vomiting bug

Rock Ferry has reportedly been inundated with parents notifying the school their child will not be coming in, the Liverpool Echo reported. It is unclear how many teachers are ill or when the school may reopen.

A school in Lancashire was also forced to close for a deep clean last month after 50 students and teachers became ill in a suspected outbreak, LancsLive reported.

And it is not just schools that are being struck down. Cannock Chase Hospital in Staffordshire restricted visiting hours to just an hour a day last week after an outbreak, according to StokeonTrent Live.

Patients on three wards at the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton also developed diarrhoea and vomiting, leading to four days of visiting restrictions, CoventryLive reported.

The most recent Public Health England data available shows that between July 1 and September 29, 696 confirmed cases of norovirus occurred in England and Wales, marginally less than the average of 703.