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Protecting employees from the winter vomiting bug

New figures released by health authorities have confirmed that cases of the winter vomiting bug norovirus are far higher than last year, with employers being advised to maintain excellent hygiene standards to protect employees from the illness.

Norovirus is highly infectious and easily transmitted through contact with infected individuals from one person to another.

Outbreaks are common in semi-enclosed environments such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools and cruise ships but can also occur in restaurants and hotels.

According to figures released by Public Health England (PHE) in December 2016, there were 1704 confirmed cases of the diarrhoea and vomiting bug in England, 55% higher than during the same period last year.

In November 2016, the Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca was forced to temporarily close several of its London branches after more than 350 customers and staff fell ill with suspected norovirus.

PHE has advised that good hygiene is important to stop the spread of the virus. The NHS has also offered guidance to help stop the virus spreading and staff should be aware of the following advice.

  • Employees should stay off work until at least 48 hours after the symptoms have passed.

  • Staff should wash their hands thoroughly using soap and water and dry them after using the toilet, before preparing food and eating.

  • Alcohol gels do not kill the virus and should not be relied on.

  • Eating raw, unwashed food which could harbour the virus should be avoided.

Excellent workplace hygiene is also essential.

  • Any potentially contaminated surfaces or objects, such as desks, equipment and door handles, should be disinfected with a suitable bleach-based household cleaner.

  • Towels and flannels should not be shared. Ideally disposable paper towels should be used.

  • It is important to disinfect bathrooms and toilets.

  • Any infected bedding and clothing should be cleaned on a hot wash.

Further information is available from the NHS website.

Last updated 13 December 2016

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