Norovirus in babies: how to spot it and treat it

Babies under 1 year can get norovirus, the stomach bug which causes vomiting and diarrhoea. Here's your guide to what other symptoms you should you look out for – and when it's time to get medical advice

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In a nutshell: Babies can get norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting bug, which causes vomiting and diarrhoea. A baby (and adults and children) can get it at any time – not just in winter. It’s highly contagious and spreads quickly. The key thing with a baby who has this kind of illness is to make sure that they are drinking enough to replace the amount of fluid they’re losing through the diarrhoea and vomiting.

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What are the symptoms of norovirus in babies?

  • Nausea (though your baby obviously can’t tell you they feel sick) and vomiting 
  • Diarrhoea – loose, watery, more frequent stools

Other symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Tummy pain, headache and aching limbs. Again, your baby can’t tell you this but may seem very unsettled

You may also notice that your baby has a decreased appetite and is eating less.

What should I do if I think my baby has norovirus?

You should carry on breastfeeding or bottlefeeding your baby. And…

  • If they’re being sick, try giving them small feeds more often than usual.
  • If your baby is exclusively breastfed, then you don’t have to offer water – you can just offer breastmilk more regularly.
  • If your baby is bottlefed, then offer water (little and often) between feeds.
  • If your baby is weaning or weaned onto solid food, then you can offer food but keep it simple, such as pasta or toast.
  • If your baby is refusing to drink, try giving water or expressed milk in a syringe. Point the syringe between their lower teeth and cheek and give about 1ml at a time, as that way they are less likely to spit it out. Start at 5ml every 5 minutes and gradually increase the amount you give.

Is norovirus dangerous for babies?

Most babies will recover well but the key concern with norovirus is making sure your baby doesn’t get dehydrated.

Get medical advice if your baby can’t tolerate 5ml of water or expressed milk every 5 minutes, as described above, or if there are showing signs of dehydration such as:

  • Fewer wet nappies
  • No weeing for 6 hours
  • Being drowsy or floppy
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How long does norovirus last in babies?

The vomiting can last for 2 days and the diarrhoea can last for around 5 days.

If your baby is being sick for more than 2 days, their diarrhoea lasts more than 7 days, or if there is blood in their poo or vomit, then seek medical advice.

How do I stop norovirus from spreading to others?

Norovirus is highly contagious, and good hygiene is key when it comes to stopping it spreading. The top precautions to take are to:

  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Wipe down high-touch areas in your house, such as door handles
  • Remove and wash soiled clothing and bedding immediately
  • Don’t share cutlery, dishes, cups or glasses

And, obviously, someone with norovirus should not prepare food for other people.

If your baby is normally at nursery or being looked after by a childminder, then they stay home until 48 hours after their last bout of diarrhoea or vomiting to prevent the infection from spreading to other children and adults in the nursery or at the childminder’s house.

About our expert Dr Philippa Kaye

Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice. Dr Philippa has also written a number of books, including ones on child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence. She is a mum of 3.

Last updated 17 July 2021

Pics: Getty

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