November 30, 2021 8.52 am

Karen Dunderdale: NHS prepares to battle flu, norovirus and COVID

How to protect yourself and others

By Director of Nursing, United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust

Column by ULHT’s Dr Karen Dunderdale, Director of Nursing/Deputy CEO and Director of Infection Prevention and Control


The change in the weather marks the beginning of a very busy time for the NHS.

With colder temperatures comes the increase in cases of flu and norovirus, as well as COVID – which is why we all need to play our part in protecting ourselves and each other.

At this time of year norovirus, or the winter vomiting and diarrhoea bug, is common. It is highly infectious and easily spread through close contact with someone, or by touching surfaces which have germs on them or eating food prepared or handled by someone who has norovirus.

Symptoms are typically, feeling sick, diarrhoea, being sick and can be associated with a high temperature, aching arms and legs and headache. Symptoms usually start one-two days after being infected and usually you will start to feel better after two-three days. Washing your hands frequently with soap and water is the best way to stop it spreading. Alcohol hand gels do not kill norovirus.

Another infectious bug is the influenza (flu) virus. For the majority of people, flu is unpleasant but not life-threatening. However, it can be very serious for those groups at risk of developing complications including people with weakened immune systems, as well as those with underlying conditions such as liver, lung or renal disease, heart problems or diabetes and pregnant women.

Flu is very infectious and easily spread to other people. You’re more likely to give it to others in the first five days. Flu is spread by germs from coughs and sneezes, which can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.
To reduce the risk of spreading flu ensure you wash your hands often with warm water and soap and use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze then bin used tissues as quickly as possible.

The flu vaccination is offered to every ULHT member of staff free of charge. Members of the public can contact their GP to find out more about how to get a flu vaccine. The vaccination is free if you are aged over 65 years, are pregnant, have a long term condition (such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease or multiple sclerosis) or are a carer.

As COVID is still with us, I would encourage those who are eligible to get the free vaccinations, and booster when they are contacted to do so. This has been a vital step for the country in the fight against COVID and in protecting ourselves and those around us.

Good hand hygiene can also help to limit the spread of infections and there are some simple steps that we can take to help stop viruses spreading. These include washing your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water, particularly after using the toilet and before preparing food. If you’re in a hospital, pay attention to hand hygiene notices such those asking you to use alcohol-based hand rub upon entering and leaving the ward. Also continue to wear a mask whilst in NHS healthcare settings.

People worried about prolonged symptoms should contact NHS 111 or ring their GP, not visit their surgery. They will be able to provide advice for people who are at greater risk from dehydration from diarrhoea and vomiting, such as young children or the elderly.

How to practice good hand hygiene

  • Ensure you regularly use alcohol hand rub available on all wards to clean your hands, especially before touching patients
  • Wash your hands with soap and water when anyone has diarrhoea, to prevent the spread of infections such as norovirus which can be a problem during the winter months
  • If you have symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting do not visit the hospitals until you have been clear of these symptoms for at least 48 hours

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Dr Karen Dunderdale is the Director of Nursing at United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust