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Chaos as winter vomiting cases hit 750,000 and force hundreds of wards to close
New figures show number of cases 72 per cent higher than last DecemberMore than 300 hospital wards in England and Wales have been closed to new patients since outbreak beganA total of 43 have been shut in the past two weeks aloneSchools across the UK have been affected, with one south-west London primary reporting 'unprecedented' numbers of pupils off sick
11:34 GMT, 13 December 2012
Hundreds of hospital wards have been forced to close due to the spread of the winter vomiting bug, as fears grow that this winter's outbreak could prove to be the worst on record.
New figures released yesterday by the Health Protection Agency revealed cases of the bug are at a five-year high – with more than two-thirds as many people struck down this year as during the same period in 2011.
In the past week, schools from Plymouth to Fife have been forced to close after soaring numbers of children have fallen victim to the highly contagious norovirus.
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The dotted line representing 2012/13 shows how, in the latter part of 2012, cases of norovirus have rocketed. Despite a recent dip, the number of cases is still high
A total of 335 hospital wards in England and Wales have been closed to new visitors since the start of this year's outbreak – with 43 shut down in the past fortnight alone.
And as well as norovirus, there are numerous other vicious bugs going around. On Tuesday, 140 of the 639 pupils at Wimbledon Chase Primary School in south west London, were off sick. Staff said the number was unprecedented.
The huge early outbreak is thought to represent the worst start to the norovirus season on record, with some experts blaming particularly frigid November temperatures for the staggering numbers of cases.
The new HPA figures show there have been 2,630 confirmed cases – where samples have been checked in the lab – since July.
This is 72 per cent higher than the same period in the last season when there were 1,533 cases reported.
But this figure is likely to be only a
fraction of the true total as most sufferers do not see their GP.
Officials at the HPA estimate that for every confirmed case there are
another 288 in the community.
This means that 757,440 people could be affected by the stomach bug.
There has been a slight dip in cases in the last week or two but an HPA spokesperson said this was no indication the virus was tapering off, particularly as the vast majority of cases in the community go unreported.
John Harris, an expert in norovirus at the HPA, said: '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.'
Some experts say the highly contagious virus has arrived early this year and caught the NHS 'unawares'.
Infections tend to peak in January and February. But this year's early outbreak could go on to see this norovirus season become the worst on record.
Experts say the virus has arrived earlier than usual this year and caught the NHS 'unawares'
In Scotland, parents have even been banned from nativity shows at one Midlothian school. More than a quarter of the 400 children at Mauricewood primary school
near Edinburgh have been struck down in the suspected norovirus
outbreak. Several teachers have also been affected.
Few have escaped the clutches of the
virus. In Coventry, a bride and groom were among 40 guests taken ill
after their wedding reception.
Just five people at Michael and Natalie Frost's party at the Chace Hotel, in Willenhall, on Saturday, were not struck down by a stomach bug. Several members of staff have also been affected.
The cause of the crippling bout of sickness and diarrhoea is now being investigated by environmental health officers from Coventry City Council.
But hotel bosses emphatically deny the food was to blame and said it was caused by the contagious winter vomiting bug.
Dozens of hospitals have also been forced to close their wards.
Unprecedented: At Wimbledon Chase Primary school in south west London (pictured), 140 of the 639 pupils were off sick with the bug yesterday
Staffordshire, four wards have been closed to new patients after an
outbreak at the county’s biggest hospital. The restrictions mean up to
80 beds at the 1,100-bed University Hospital of North Staffordshire are
out of action and unable to take emergency cases from its overstretched
In Scotland, three wards at Dumfries Infirmary have been closed to new admissions. The outbreak is the second in a matter of weeks at the hospital, where 38 patients and 14 staff have been affected.
And in Plymouth, three wards have been closed after the bug struck Derriford Hospital.
The norovirus has even hit passengers on board a luxury cruise ship for a festive tour of Europe's Christmas markets.
In an update on the situation, a spokeswoman for P&O's parent company Carnival said there had been 'an incidence of a mild gastrointestinal illness' among the passengers.
She added that as of today, of 1,843 passengers, 'the number of passengers with active symptoms is six'. But she was unable to confirm how many people have been affected in total.
IF YOU SUSPECT YOU HAVE NOROVIRUS…
The Health Protection Agency advises the following measures:
Do NOT visit your GP surgery or local A&E Unit. Norovirus infection
is a self-limiting illness and you will recover naturally without
treatment. It is, however, important to take plenty of drinks to replace
Direct's new diarrhoea and vomiting online health and symptom checker,
to get advice on how to manage your symptoms at home or help to access
the most appropriate health service visit the NHS Direct website:
Wash hands thoroughly and regularly at all times, but particularly after using the toilet and before eating.
Do not visit friends or relatives in hospitals or residential care
homes as there is a real risk that you would introduce the infection,
putting vulnerable people at risk.
passenger, who claimed crew members had ignored the plight of those
stricken by the bug, described the trip as 'a cruise to hell'.
Bob Adak, head of the gastrointestinal diseases department at the HPA
said: ‘The norovirus season is always completely unpredictable as it
peaks and falls over several months – usually October to April. However,
one thing we do know is that every year we will see a large amount of
norovirus activity because it is highly contagious.'
The bug can be transmitted by contact with an infected
person, by consuming contaminated food or water or by contact with
contaminated surfaces or objects. The virus spreads rapidly in closed
environments such as hospitals, schools, nursing and residential homes.
symptoms include a sudden onset of vomiting and/or diarrhoea. Some
people may have a temperature, headache and stomach cramps. The illness
usually resolves in one or two days and there are no long-term effects.
Handwashing: It's not as simple as you think, as these NHS workers show, Gangnam Style
VIDEO: What is Norovirus, and how to avoid it
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