Teachers and parents have been asked to guard against norovirus to prevent widespread outbreaks as schools prepare to reopen classrooms next week.

As coronavirus restrictions have eased, health officials have detected a surge in the winter sickness bug, particularly in nurseries and childcare settings.

A report by Public Health England (PHE) warned that further rises may take place in the coming months.

Dr Lesley Larkin, surveillance lead for the gastrointestinal pathogens unit at PHE, told the PA news agency: "We have seen increases in norovirus cases as Covid-19 restrictions have eased and people mix more.

"As children head back to school next week, it's important to remember simple steps we can all take to limit the spread of this unpleasant bug and reduce the chances of outbreaks.

"Stay at home if you are experiencing norovirus symptoms and do not return to work or send children to school or nursery until 48 hours after symptoms have cleared.

"As with Covid-19, handwashing is really important to help stop the spread of this bug, but remember, unlike for Covid-19 alcohol gels do not kill off norovirus so soap and water is best."

Earlier in the summer, routine surveillance detected an increase in outbreaks of the vomiting bug, particularly in early-year educational settings. Cases started to rise in June and have been "notably higher" in children under five, PHE said.

During July cases were "43 per cent higher than the average of the previous five seasons prior to the emergence of Covid-19", PHE said.

Norovirus is highly infectious and causes vomiting and diarrhoea, but usually passes in a couple of days. It is easily transmitted through contact with infected individuals or contaminated surfaces.

PHE experts said parents could take these steps to help prevent the spread:

  • If you have symptoms, stay home until 48 hours after they have passed
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap, because alcohol gel does not kill the virus
  • Clean thoroughly after a person has been sick
  • If you have symptoms, avoid cooking and preparing meals until 48 hours after they have passed
  • Wash clothing and bedding using detergent and at 60C

Additional reporting by Press Association