More than 5,000 NHS staff off sick every day with vomiting bug as 100,000 are struck down in a week
Cases of norovirus have reached a five-year high
Four in ten NHS trusts have reported outbreaks2,398 beds 'closed' because of the virus

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UPDATED:

00:59 GMT, 19 December 2012

More than 5,000 NHS workers are calling in sick every day with the winter vomiting bug.

Cases of norovirus have reached a five-year high and dozens of hospitals are resorting to banning visits from relatives to prevent its spread.

It is estimated that around 900,000 people have been hit by the virus since the summer.

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1 in 50 hospital beds are 'closed' due to the norovirus

1 in 50 hospital beds are 'closed' due to the norovirus

In the past week alone nearly 100,000
adults and children were struck down with the infection; nearly twice
as many as this time last year.

Four in ten NHS trusts – 67 in total – have reported outbreaks among patients.

This includes Birmingham City Hospitals NHS trust which has banned visitors from all wards – even those without outbreaks.

The cruise ship Oriana is suffering sickness among 1,800 new passengers

The cruise ship Oriana is suffering sickness among 1,800 new passengers

Data from the Department of Health
shows that 2,398 hospital beds are ‘closed’ due to norovirus – equating
to 1 in 50 of all available beds.

Figures from Firstcare, which
monitors absence rates, show that an average of 5,263 NHS staff are
calling in sick with typical symptoms every day.

And during November some 128,800 working days were lost in the NHS due to employees being off with sickness.

Four wards at Telford's Princess Royal Hospital have been closed today after an outbreak of the winter vomiting bug

Four wards at Telford's Princess Royal Hospital have been closed after an outbreak of the winter vomiting bug

It is estimated that 0.4 per cent of the 1.4million workers in the NHS are off sick with symptoms.

It is not known what proportion are
frontline staff but they are likely to be in the majority, as they are
mostly in contact with patients.

Officials from the Department of
Health insist that the NHS is ‘coping well’ with the outbreak. But
experts said that the high numbers of staff falling sick was putting
extra pressure on already-overstretched wards.

Dr Ian Hosein, director of infection
and prevention control at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University
Hospitals in East London, said: ‘There is significant norovirus activity
out there in the community and of course our staff go home, and they
will become exposed. The danger for us is that they could bring it into
hospital.

‘Staff will also catch it on the wards.’

Experts are not sure as to why
norovirus is so severe this year, with the number of cases 83 per cent
higher than this time in 2011.

Figures from the Health Protection
Agency show since July there have been 3,046 confirmed reports – where
the virus has been properly tested in the lab.

But as most victims do not consult their GP, the HPA estimates that for every confirmed report there are 288 cases.

This implies that 877,000 adults and children have been struck down since the summer.

Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, a headache and a temperature. They usually resolve themselves in a couple of days.

But it can be dangerous in the
elderly or in patients with serious underlying conditions and is thought
to cause around 80 deaths a year.

John Harris, an expert from the HPA
said: ‘It is very contagious so we would urge anyone who thinks they may
be unwell with norovirus to stay at home.’

VIDEO What is Norovirus, and how to avoid it

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