Contagious ‘winter vomiting bug’ hits UK; hospitals forced to close wards

An outbreak of norovirus or ‘winter vomiting bug’ as it is more commonly known, has left thousands suffering across Britain and forced an incredible 45 hospitals to shut down wards in an attempt to stop the winter bug from spreading any more than it already has – an increase from last year when 33 hospitals closed down certain wards for similar reasons.

Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital has closed four of its wards and is warning visitors to stay away, with four members of staff off-sick with the virus. Other hospitals that have experienced outbreaks of the winter vomiting bug include Solihull in the West Midlands, East Surrey Hospital, Weston General Hospital in Weston-Super-Mare, and Hinchingbrooke in Cambridgeshire.

Figures published from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) show that the number of confirmed reports of norovirus is up a massive 52% on the same period last year in what is a five-year high. So far there have been 1,975 confirmed cases since July. This is in comparison to 1,301 at the same time in 2011.

HPA expert John Harris however said the increase could be because of better detection techniques in labs. He commented: “Everyone can help to minimise the risk of outbreaks at their local hospital by not going if they have the typical symptoms of a norovirus infection.”

Norovirus is primarily a winter pathogen, hence the ‘winter vomiting bug’ name, but infections and outbreaks can occur during any time of the year. Symptoms include a sudden onset of vomiting – which may be projectile and/ or diarrhoea that is usually quite watery in nature. The virus is highly contagious and easily spread by contact with an infected person – usually via the hands through touching the same doors or stair rails as somebody who has the virus.

Unfortunately there is no cure, but it will usually run its course after a few days. If you contract norovirus you should drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated, take paracetamol for aches and pains, consume foods that are easily digestible and stay at home until your symptoms subside due to norovirus being contagious.

An estimated 600,000 to 1 million people in the UK fall ill with norovirus every year. If you do not want to become part of this statistic then there are a number of things you can do to try and both prevent contracting the virus, and stop it from spreading. For example, avoid sharing towels and flannels, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the toilet as well as prior to preparing meals, use a bleach-based household cleaner to disinfect any surfaces or areas that may be contaminated and wash all clothing and bedding at risk separately from other items.

Speaking on television regarding the outbreak, Daybreak’s Health Editor Dr Hilary Jones said that norovirus is ‘very bad news’, adding: “Although it’s not hugely a life-threatening it is the most common form of gastroenteritis in adults in the UK.”

This is not the first high-profile outbreak of norovirus seen this year however. Only six months ago, Medical Specialists Pharmacy reported how the virus had spread aboard the luxury cruise ship ‘Boudicca’. In that instance, 170 of the 828 passengers ended up falling ill leading to a huge fumigation process before the ship could resume its journey to the Canary Islands.

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