Freezing weather causes highly contagious winter vomiting bug to spread across Britain34 hospitals reported outbreaks over past two weeks
The freezing weather has caused a national outbreak of the winter vomiting bug, it has emerged.
Health experts are worried that outbreaks of noruvirus, which causes violent sickness and diarrohea, could affect many more people if the icy conditions persist.
Over the past fortnight, there have been reports of noruvirus at 34 hospitals, of which 19 half have been confirmed as the bug.
Health fears: People have been warned to wash hands thoroughly and avoid hospitals if they are unwell, as noruvirus can spread rapidly
Wards have been forced to close and visiting hours restricted at 23 hospitals over the past two weeks.
Around a million people each year are affected by the virus, which can spread rapidly in hospitals, residential care homes and schools.
Louise Brown, spokesperson for the Health Protection Agency, which released the latest report, said: 'It is believed to be connected with cold weather – that is why it is called the winter vomiting bug.
'The numbers this year are so far a little lower than normal – but this could change in the weeks ahead if the icy conditions continue.'
HOW TO AVOID THE NOROVIRUS
The virus is easily spread by contact with an infected person,
especially through their hands.
You can also catch it through
contaminated food or drink or by touching contaminated surfaces or
To stop the spread…
Wash your hands frequentlyDo not share towels and flannelsDisinfect any surfaces that an infected person has touched
If you do catch the virus, keep washing your hands and stay at home until you are clear of symptoms for 48 hours.
There have been a worrying 581 cases reported since the start of October, with 392 (67 per cent) leading to ward closures.
Ms Brown said: 'The current figures are well within seasonal norms and actually down on the average between 2006 and 2010.'
But with the chilly weather forecast to stay in place until the end of the month, people have been warned to be careful, as the bug can spread rapidly.
Experts advised people to wash hands thoroughly and regularly, particularly after using the toilet and before eating.
Noruvirus can be fatal, especially if contracted by those who are already unwell, so those who are sick should not visit friends and relatives in hospitals and care homes.
High risk: There have been a worrying 581 cases reported since the start of October, with 392 leading to ward closures (picture posed by model)
Most of the outbreaks have been in the North East and South West, followed by the West Midlands, where there were six.
The South East has had four outbreaks, while there were three in the East Midlands, London and the North west and one in Yorkshire and Humberside.
Last winter there were 1,164 outbreaks, of which 886 (76 per cent) led to ward closures and 716 (62 per cent) were laboratory confirmed as norovirus.
The Met Office has warned Britain to brace itself for the coldest night of the winter so far tonight as temperatures threaten to plunge as low a -13C.
If the mercury does dip that low, it would mean the coldest thermometer readings since the frost-bitten nightmare of December 2010.