A NASTY and contagious winter vomiting bug is working its way across the county.

Public Health England confirmed a “sharp rise” in people coming down with highly contagious norovirus.

With levels being higher than they were this time last year, Public Health England issued a warning, urging people to take simple steps to stop it spreading.

Public Health England warns of a sharp rise in norovirus cases in Kent and the south east

The authority did say the rise is not unprecedented and that norovirus activity varies from year to year.

Dr Vaughan Lewis, regional medical director for NHS England and NHS Improvement South East, said: “If you do experience any of the symptoms of norovirus stay at home, drink lots of water and get plenty of rest.

“The bug spreads really easily as only a few viral particles need to be swallowed in order for a person to become ill.

“It’s especially contagious and difficult to contain in a hospital or care home where people are together in close proximity, so I advise anyone who has symptoms to delay visiting friends and family until you are symptom free for at least 48 hours.

“Norovirus can seriously affect vulnerable patients, so sometimes hospital wards or care homes will be closed to visitors to prevent it from spreading.

“If you are visiting someone in hospital, please follow the hospital’s advice, and pay strict attention to hand hygiene.”

The NHS website also has advice on what to do to prevent getting infected - and what actions to take if you think you have norovirus. Simply washing your hands with soap and water can stop the infection.

The bug can be particularly hard to contain on hospital wards, and there have been cases where one ward was quarantined after a norovirus outbreak.

A statement reads: “It is not possible to guarantee that you will not catch norovirus. But good hygiene will lower your risk.

“Wash your hands frequently, particularly after using the lavatory and before eating or preparing food. Avoiding raw, unwashed foods during a norovirus outbreak can also lower your risk of infection.”

It later adds: “There is no specific treatment for the illness, and you will have to let it run its course. Stay at home and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

“That means regular sips of water or fruit juice, even if you are feeling sick. Adults can take rehydration drinks and anti-diarrhoea medicines available from pharmacies. Anti-diarrhoea medicines are not suitable for children.

“To avoid infecting other people with the virus, wash your hands regularly and stay at home for 48 hours after the last sign of symptoms. Do not prepare food for others for three days after the last sign of symptoms.

“The vast majority of those infected make a full recovery within two days. But particular care must be taken with the very young and older people who catch norovirus, as they are at higher risk of dehydration.”