Norovirus cases reach 1.1 million with millions still at risk

The total of people affected by norovirus (aka ‘the winter vomiting bug’) has now reached a staggering 1.12 million according to the latest Health Protection Agency (HPA) projected figures for England and Wales.

Laboratory-confirmed cases of norovirus now stand at 3,877 across England and Wales compared to 2,255 in 2011. However, the HPA claim that for every reported case, there are an additional 288 cases that have yet to be flagged up. This means there could be 1.12 million struck down with the illness.

The HPA estimates that approximately 100,000 people were suffering from the winter vomiting bug over the Christmas period – an incredible 72% increase on the year before at the same time. Although the total number of reported cases had dropped over the festive break, it is believed that millions in the UK are still at high risk of catching the contagious bug in the forthcoming weeks.

John Harris, an expert in norovirus from the HPA, said: “As we have seen in previous years there has been a dip in the number of confirmed laboratory reports owing to the Christmas and New Year period. However, in line with other norovirus seasons we will expect to see an increase in the number of laboratory reports in the next few weeks. Norovirus is very contagious, and anyone who has had it knows it is very unpleasant. If you think you may have the illness then it is important to maintain good hand hygiene to help prevent it spreading. We also advise that people stay away from hospitals, schools and care homes as these environments are particularly prone to outbreaks.”

Mr Harris’ comments come in the wake of reports that show in the closing two weeks of 2012 there were 29 hospital outbreaks. This however is some way off the 70 that had been reported in the previous fortnight and the total for the season has now reached 590.

A Department of Health spokesman commented on how the NHS is coping with the contagious condition, saying: “The NHS is well prepared for the winter. No ­­­ A&Es have had to close so far this winter and we are providing additional funding to the NHS to help it cope with the added pressure that the winter brings. Flu and norovirus are typical at this time of year – that’s why we are running the ‘Catch It. Bin It. Kill It’ campaign. The number of beds closed due to norovirus symptoms is around 2.4 per cent. This compares to 2.9 per cent during the peak last winter.”

The winter vomiting bug can be transferred via contact with an infected person or contaminated surfaces and objects i.e. through touching the same doors or stair rails as somebody who has the virus. Symptoms typically last for a few days and include a sudden onset of vomiting – which may be projectile and/ or diarrhoea that is usually quite watery in nature, as well as a raised temperature, headache and stomach cramps. Although people can suffer from norovirus at any time, prominence of the illness and outbreaks normally occur during the winter season.

Unfortunately there is no cure for norovirus. However, if you do contract norovirus, Medical Specialists Pharmacy advise to drink plenty of fluids to remain hydrated, take paracetamol for aches and pains, stick to eating foods that are easily digestible and stay at home until your symptoms subside due to the virus being highly contagious.

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