LABORATORY reports of the winter vomiting bug Norovirus are up on this time last year in some parts of the country, the NHS has warned.

The gruesome bug causes diarrhoea and vomiting and can spread like wildfire amongst small communities such as hospital wards, school classrooms or families.

Unlike many other germs, Norovirus can't be killed by the use of alcohol hand sanitising gels - only vigilance and hand-washing with soap and water will do, says the NHS.

Now Public Health England are urging people in the South West to follow simple steps stop the spread of this nasty bug this winter.

How can I avoid catching it?

A spokesman said: "Norovirus can live on hard surfaces for hours and spreads very quickly through environments where lots of people are mingling closely, such as schools, nurseries, care homes and hospitals.

"The best way to protect yourself and others from catching this unpleasant sickness bug is simply to wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap, and to keep the environment you live and work in clean."

Do hand sanitisers work just as well as washing you hands?

A Public Health England spokesman added: "Alcohol or antibacterial hand sanitisers are a popular choice for people wanting to protect themselves from the bugs that circulate during winter, causing illnesses such as norovirus.

"However, what most people don’t know is that hand sanitisers are NOT an effective protection against this common sickness bug.

"If Norovirus is introduced unintentionally into places where lots of people congregate, such as schools, nurseries, hospitals and care homes, the illness can spread incredibly quickly and affect vulnerable people.

"In some situations, Norovirus outbreaks can lead to hospital ward or school and nursery closures.

"This can have a knock-on effect of disrupting peoples’ jobs, routines or putting the health of people with underlying conditions at risk."

However, it says that stopping norovirus is simple: Think NORO:

N No visits to hospitals, care homes and GP surgeries if you are suffering from symptoms of Norovirus - send someone else to visit loved ones until you are better

O Once you’ve been symptom-free for at least 48 hours, you’re safe to return to work, school or visit hospitals and care home

R Regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water, especially after using the toilet, and before eating or preparing food

O Only hand-washing will prevent spread of Norovirus - alcohol hand gels DON’T kill the virus