750,000 people could have norovirus
It was just over a fortnight ago when Medical Specialists Pharmacy reported how the norovirus ‘winter vomiting bug’ had struck the UK with a fierce vengeance and resulted in many hospital ward closures. Now, weeks later, it seems things are getting much worse. The latest set of Health Protection Agency (HPA) statistics will certainly raise a few eyebrows and they show just how serious the contagious the illness is. The HPA figures show that the winter vomiting bug is wreaking havoc across Britain with cases now standing at a five-year high and also up by 72% at the same time in 2011. The HPA claim that more than 750,000 people could be affected by the outbreak as there have been 2,630 confirmed reports of the virus from laboratory tests and the HPA operate on the basis that for every confirmed case, there are an additional 288 cases that have yet to be reported. This means that there may be around 757,440 people struck down with the stomach bug. A HPA spokespersons said: “Laboratory confirmed reports represent only a small proportion of the actual amount of norovirus activity in the community, because the vast majority of affected people do not access health care services as a result of their illness.” The weekly figures from the HPA indicate more cases reported, however the total number of new reports has dropped 28% from the previous week’s total of 327 confirmed cases. However, HPA norovirus expert John Harris warns that the worst may be yet to come after Christmas. He says: “Our figures show a small drop in the number of confirmed cases over the last couple of weeks. We cannot read too much into this at present as this is typical of the norovirus season where we see a series of sharp rises and falls in activity between October and April with the bulk of cases usually occurring between January and March. People should be vigilant in their hygiene and we would like to remind anyone who has typical symptoms suggestive of norovirus infection to avoid visiting friends or relatives in hospital or care homes. Norovirus infection in hospitals is very disruptive as it can lead to ward closures.” Mr Harris also advised what course of action to take in the event of developing the virus. He continued: “Having a norovirus infection is very unpleasant but it is short-lived and most people will fully recover in a couple of days. Make sure that you or anyone you are caring for takes plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Over-the-counter medicines can also be useful in reducing headaches and other aches and pains.” The HPA’s figures have coincided with news this week that 300 of the 1,834 passengers aboard the luxury cruise linger ‘Oriana’ have been quarantined due to an outbreak of norovirus, forced to stay in their own cabins to prevent a further spread of the virus which causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea. There have been reports that some passengers collapsed on the deck and corridors and toilets ‘smelt strongly of sick’ according to some people aboard the ship. The winter vomiting bug hit passengers after the vessel departed from Southampton on 4 December for the 10-day Baltic cruise. Oriana is scheduled to arrive back in port at Southampton on Friday morning, slightly earlier than first planned and new passengers will not be allowed on board until health experts have undergone strict cleaning procedures within the public areas and cabins, predicted to take around 6-7 hours. A spokeswoman for P&O cruises said that ‘enhanced sanitation protocols’ had been put into place to try and contain the virus, which includes requesting that affected passengers isolate themselves in their rooms and do not leave the ship for any day trips. The spokeswoman said: “The safety and comfort of passengers and crew is always our number one priority. As is currently standard procedure across our fleet, all the ship's passengers were provided with a precautionary health notice advising of widespread norovirus activity and the health measures to avoid contraction and spread, both on board and whilst ashore.” Cruise ships are a notoriously dangerous environment for a rapid spread of norovirus. Earlier this year, a similar outbreak erupted on another ship; Boudicca, with 170 passengers of the 828 on board being effected. Approximately 600,000 to 1 million people in the UK fall ill with norovirus every year, but there are certain steps you can take to prevent contracting the virus and prevent it 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.