DOCTORS are warning about the dangers of norovirus – as hospitals have been forced to close more 1,100 hospital beds over the last week.
Cases of the highly-infectious illness, also known as the “winter vomiting bug”, have doubled since this time last year.
And top medics are concerned that the condition will continue to spread and have a detrimental impact on hospitals and other services in the lead up to Christmas.
They are now urging those who catch the virus not to go back to work or school until at least 48 hours after symptoms pass, to avoid other people picking it up.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said: “We’ve already seen a number of hospitals and schools affected by norovirus, and unfortunately instances like these are likely to rise over the coming weeks.
“It’s a really unpleasant illness to catch, but for the vast majority of people it will usually pass in a couple of days, and self-treating at home is the best way to help yourself and avoid putting others at risk.
“Crucially, if you’re experiencing norovirus symptoms it’s important that you don’t return to work or school for 48 hours after they clear – and avoid visiting elderly or ill friends and relatives – to avoid spreading it to other people.”
In particular, health bosses are stressing the importance of hand-washing and practising good hygiene.
Nick Phin, National Infection Service Deputy Director at Public Health England, added: “Cases of norovirus are at higher levels than we would expect to see at this time of year, although this is not unprecedented.
“Practising good hygiene is one of the best ways to protect against norovirus.
Five ways to limit the spread of norovirus
- Stay at home if you are experiencing norovirus symptoms. Do not return to work or send children to school until 48 hours after symptoms have cleared. Also avoid visiting elderly or poorly relatives, particularly if they are in hospital.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water. Alcohol hand gels don’t kill norovirus.
- Use a bleach-based household cleaner or a combination of bleach and hot water to disinfect household surfaces and commonly used objects such as toilets, taps, telephones, door handles and kitchen surfaces.
- If you are ill, avoid cooking and helping prepare meals for others.
- Wash any contaminated clothing or bedding using detergent and at 60°C, and if possible wear disposable gloves to handle contaminated items.
“This includes thorough hand washing with soap and warm water after using the toilet and before eating or preparing food.
“We advise people not to visit GP surgeries and hospitals with symptoms.
“However, if they are concerned they should contact NHS 111 or talk to their GP by phone.”
It comes after national surveillance data from Public Health England (PHE) showed that the number of positive norovirus laboratory reports during the two weeks in the middle of November (11th-24th) was 28 per cent higher than the average for the same period in the previous five years.
Cases of norovirus are at higher levels than we would expect to see at this time of year
Nick Phin, National Infection Service Deputy Director at Public Health England
And almost double the number of hospital beds have been closed every day over the last week than at the same time last year, in a bid to stop the spread of diarrhoea and vomiting to more patients.
Norovirus is one of the most common stomach bugs in the UK.
It’s also called the winter vomiting bug because it’s more common in winter, although it can be caught at any time of the year.
The main symptoms are typically suddenly feeling sick, projectile vomiting and watery diarrhoea.
How to look after yourself if you have norovirus
Most people will make a full recovery within one to two days, but it is important to drink plenty of fluids during that time to prevent dehydration especially in the very young, elderly or those with weakened immunity.
- Stay at home and get plenty of rest
- Drink lots of fluids, such as water or squash – take small sips if you feel sick
- Carry on breast or bottle feeding your baby – if they’re being sick, try giving small feeds more often than usual
- Give babies on formula or solid foods small sips of water between feeds
- Eat when you feel able to – you don’t need to eat or avoid any specific foods
- Take paracetamol if you’re in discomfort – check the leaflet before giving it to your child
- Go back to work, or send your children back to school, until 48 hours after symptoms have cleared
- Have fruit juice or fizzy drinks – they can make diarrhoea worse
- Make baby formula weaker – use it at its usual strength
- Give children under 12 medicine to stop diarrhoea
- Give aspirin to children under 16
Some people also have a slight fever, headaches, painful stomach cramps and aching limbs.
Infections rarely require medical treatment and most people will recover from it within a few days.
It is, however, highly contagious, and is easily passed on at home, at hospital, or in the local community, and those who have been infected remain carriers for some time.
As well as hospital beds being shut, droves of schools have been forced to close due to norovirus.
Schools in Yorkshire and Northern Ireland had to shut last week and students from Howden School in Goole, East Yorks, were sent home last Monday and told to steer clear until Thursday after an outbreak of cases.
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Another secondary school in nearby Bradford, was also shutdown for a deep clean after more than 15 per cent of its pupils and staff were struck down.
Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine recently estimated that the illness is responsible for 200,000 deaths every year worldwide.
Experts say this is because it is “notorious for spreading rapidly through densely populated spaces”.