Norovirus in pregnancy: how to spot it and how to treat it
Norovirus or winter vomiting bug can cause health problems if you are pregnant. Dr Philippa Kaye explains how to recognise the symptoms, how to treat it and how to prevent it
In a nutshell: Pregnant women, along with elderly people and young children, are more vulnerable to the diarrhoea-and-sickness bug called norovirus – also known as the winter vomiting illness, though you can actually catch it at any time of the year.
Norovirus infection in pregnancy doesn't directly harm your baby but, if you are infected, it is particularly important that you keep up your fluid intake, by drinking plenty of water, as getting dehydrated can cause issues in pregnancy.
What are the symptoms of norovirus in pregnant women?
The key symptoms of norovirus in adults are:
- Stomach cramps or pain
- Diarrhoea, often very watery
- Aching limbs
Of course, there are other viruses and bacteria which cause tummy bugs and there are lots of reasons for vomiting. Generally speaking, norovirus infection causes quite forceful vomiting and very watery diarrhoea.
Other symptoms can include a headache and raised temperature.
A norovirus infection generally lasts 2 to 3 days.
If I have norovirus, will it harm my baby?
No, norovirus itself does not directly affect your unborn baby. But it's especially important when you're pregnant and infected with norovirus to keep hydrated.
That's because the diarrhoea and vomiting may cause dehydration and, if you're very dehydrated, cause an electrolyte imbalance (electrolytes are body salts, such as sodium and potassium) that may decrease the levels of amniotic fluid surrounding your baby in your womb. In very severe cases, this can lead to premature labour.
I think I have norovirus. How should I treat it?
Drink. You need to keep up your fluid intake to replace the fluids that are lost through vomiting and diarrhoea. It is best to drink little and very often, as (obviously) you're unlikely to be able to large amounts of water if you're feeling sick.
You can use an over-the-counter oral rehydration salt, such as Dioralyte, to help replace the body salts, as well as the fluid, which you are losing when you're vomiting and having diarrhoea. You can buy this over the counter from your pharmacist or you can ask your doctor to prescribe it for you (and remember, prescriptions are free while you're pregnant if you have a valid maternity exemption form).
Over-the-counter treatments for diarrhoea are generally not recommended in pregnancy.
Paracetamol can help with any fever or aches and pains. As always, check with your pharmacist that any treatment is safe or appropriate in pregnancy.
Try to get lots of rest until your symptoms have passed. And, if you are able to, eat regular, light meals of plain foods such as plain toast or plain pasta.
As norovirus is so contagious, you should stay at home until 48 hours after you've stopped being sick or having diarrhoea.
When should I seek medical help?
Most people infected with norovirus find they feel better in 48 hours or so, although some symptoms can go on for a bit longer. You should, however seek medical help if:
- You are unable to tolerate any fluids
- You stop weeing (for example, if you haven't passed urine for 6 to 8 hours)
- There is blood in your poo or vomit
- You are vomiting for more than 2 days
- You have diarrhoea for more than 7 days
- You feel more and more unwell
Someone in my household has norovirus. How can I avoid getting it?
Norovirus is extremely infectious and spreads like wildfire, but the best way to try to prevent it spreading is by using really good hand hygiene. Everyone in your house needs to wash their hands and avoid touching their (or your) mouth.
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It's a good idea also to wipe down 'high touch' areas in your house, such as door and fridge handles.
If it's possible, use a different bathroom to the person who is ill, ask someone else to wash their soiled sheets and clothing, and don’t share cutlery dishes, cups or glasses. Obviously, someone who has norovirus shouldn’t prepare food for other people.
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 10 March 2023
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