Winter Vomiting Bug: The horrible truth - and what you can do about it
The next: BLEUGGHHHH! as an explosion of vomit erupted from my seven year-old's mouth. All over the television. All over the carpet. And all over one of our guests!
The notorious Norovirus - also know as the Winter Vomiting Bug - had arrived – with a vengeance.
The highly-contagious virus is the most common stomach bug in the UK, affecting people of all ages. Between 600,000 and one million people get it every year.
NHS Choices says there is no specific cure so you have to let it run its course, though it shouldn't last more than a couple of days. The only advice is to make sure you drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and practise good hygiene to help prevent it from spreading.
As we approach spring, I thought we'd escaped it this year.
Despite reports that the bug was sweeping the country, that it had laid low half of my youngest son's Reception class, that it had forced hospitals in Wales to close wards to admissions, I thought that our family had managed to dodge the chunky carrot bullet.
We had even managed to get through the whole of the February half-term break without a moment's illness.
But last Friday, my wife made the fatal decision to take our two sons to a soft play centre.
Sweaty, steamy bodies + germs = perfect pass-the-vomit-parcel conditions.
I got up to investigate and found my four year-old standing by the side of his bed, softly sobbing, and staring at the bedsheet.
"Aw, son, have you had a nightmare?" I said, turning on the light.
The sight that greeted me was straight from a horror movie. A huge pool of brown sick covered half the bed. It was brown and slimy, like the gooey centre of the Starbucks chocolate muffin he'd eaten earlier that day.
I whipped off the sheets, while his mum whipped off his clothes and washed him down. We changed his bed, tucked him in again, turned off the light and then...BLEUGGHH! Up came another load.
Another strip change. Another tuck. Another "Night-night" and then...BLEUGGHH! Again.
By now it was five in the morning. The neighbours wouldn't appreciate the noise of a rumbling washing machine, but what choice did we have? We'd run out of spare sheet and towels.
Eventually, the little one settled, and slept the sleep of sleeps. When he woke up, he was a little pasty, a little washed out, but other than that, none the worse for wear.
In the meantime, we turned up the heating and sweated in a sauna in a desperate attempt to dry the three lots of bedding and five towels that had been drafted into action for Operation Clean-up.
And that, as far as this year's visit from the Mr Norovirus was concerned, should have been that. Until 5pm on Sunday evening.
We had in-laws and cousins over for a special visit and went for a lovely lunch at a nearby pub where my seven year-old had fish and chips, and wolfed it down.
Back at home, he was chatting with his cousin when from absolutely nowhere came the biggest HUEEEEYYYYYY you could ever imagine. I'd never seen so much...stuff...come from such a small frame.
Once our guests had beaten a hasty retreat, we retrieved the half-damp towels from the clothes horse and radiators and staged another Operation Clean-up.
Straight into the washing machine they went, onto the Intensive Stains cycle. An hour later, I was fishing chunks of fish from the rubber lining because they were too big to go down the drain.
But when you love your kids, it doesn't matter, does it?
We tucked him into bed, and then prepared to get our own heads down when BLEUGGHHH!
Now it was my wife's turn to join the fun!
All night long, she and her eldest son took it in turns to BLEUGGHH! BLEUGGHH! BLEUGGHH! It was like being in middle of the Frog Chorus.
I ran around like a nurse with a rocket up my backside, washing, hanging, fetching, carrying, sympathising, stroking.
It felt like it would never end. I felt like King Canute, holding back a tide of vomit. It came in waves, until it was reduced to dry heaves.
My son had the day off school; my wife the day off work. And then, as suddenly as it had started, it stopped, just like it had with the youngest.
For some reason, it has passed me and my 10 year-old stepdaughter by. I'm keeping a bucket and fresh towels on standby just in case!
IF YOU OR YOUR FAMILY ARE STRUCK BY THE NOROVIRUS
NHS Direct has this advice:
• Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
• Take paracetamol for any fever or aches and pains.
• If you feel like eating, eat foods that are easy to digest.
• Stay at home and don't go to the doctor, because norovirus is contagious and there is nothing the doctor can do while you have it. However, you may wish to visit your GP if your symptoms last longer than a few days.
• Extra care should be taken to prevent babies and small children who are vomiting or have diarrhoea from dehydrating, by giving them plenty of fluids.
• Don't worry if you are pregnant and you get norovirus: there is no risk to your unborn child.
AND NOW THE GOOD NEWS...
A vaccine against the winter vomiting bug is close to being tested in humans, say doctors.
They have approached Government funders to begin human trials after laboratory tests showed the vaccine could prevent people from succumbing to the infection.
Researchers said the technical issues in formulating the vaccine appeared to be solved, and that regulators now had to assess the treatment's suitability for full-scale clinical trials.
But don't put the buckets away just yet: if trials are successful it would take at least five years for a vaccine to be available.