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One million now affected by winter vomiting bug – and cases are set to soar well into the New Year
Number of norovirus cases up by 83 per cent on this time last yearToll is expected to rise, says the Health Protection AgencyThe number of cases has risen earlier
than expected this year, following a trend seen across Europe

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UPDATED:

17:55 GMT, 28 December 2012

More than one million victims have been struck by the winter vomiting bug, figures released today suggest.

The number of confirmed cases of norovirus is up by 83 per cent on this time last year, and the toll is expected to rise.

In the past fortnight there have been a further nine outbreaks at hospitals, with many forced to close wards to prevent the virus from spreading.

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The number of confirmed cases of norovirus is up by 83 per cent on this time last year, and the toll is expected to rise

The number of confirmed cases of norovirus is up by 83 per cent on this time last year, and the toll is expected to rise

New figures from the Health Protection Agency show there have been 3,538 confirmed cases – where samples have been checked in the laboratory – in England and Wales since July.

The number is up 83 per cent on the 1,934 cases at this time last year.

HOW TO AVOID NOROVIRUS

Wash your hands at least five times a day with soap and water. You should do it for the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice – or for 20 seconds.

If someone in your family gets it, protect everyone else by cleaning your bathroom with bleach-based cleaners

Avoid food prepared by anyone who has had the virus within the last 48 hours

Scrub your kitchen with bleach-based cleaning fluids

If you think you have it, do NOT visit your GP surgery or local A&E Unit. Norovirus is a self-limiting illness and you will recover naturally without treatment. It is, however, important to take plenty of drinks to replace lost fluids.

But this is likely to be only a fraction of the true total as most sufferers do not visit their GP.

Officials
at the HPA estimate that for every confirmed case there are another 288
in the community. This suggests that almost 1.01 million adults and
children have been hit.

The HPA said that in the two weeks to December 23 there were 70 reported hospital outbreaks of the virus, compared to 61 in the previous fortnight, bringing the total of outbreaks for the season to 538.

The number of cases has risen earlier
than expected this year, following a trend seen across Europe and other
parts of the world which has unknown causes.

In Australia outbreaks began earlier than usual during the winter season and have persisted into their summer.

John
Harris, an HPA norovirus expert, said ‘The number of laboratory
confirmed cases has risen once again as it appears that we have seen the
rise in cases that usually begins in January start a little earlier
than we normally expect.

‘Norovirus is very contagious, and very
unpleasant. To help prevent spread of the disease, it’s important that
people who believe they are unwell with the virus maintain good hand
hygiene and stay away from hospitals, schools and care homes, as these
closed environments are particularly prone to outbreaks which can cause
severe disruption.’

The number of cases has risen earlier than expected this year, following a trend seen across Europe and other parts of the world

The number of cases has risen earlier than expected this year, following a trend seen across Europe and other parts of the world

The HPA added that it was a mystery why the cases of the winter vomiting bug were almost double the number of this time last year.

It said there was still no conclusive evidence that climatic reasons such as a cold snap in November were to blame.

Symptoms include a sudden onset of vomiting and diarrhoea, with victims often suffering headache, raised temperature and stomach cramps.

The illness usually resolves in one or two days in otherwise healthy people and there are no long-term effects.

Around 150 passengers on a Caribbean cruise aboard the Queen Mary 2 have been struck down by norovirus, it was reported yesterday.

It is the latest cruise ship to be struck this winter, with a number of outbreaks affecting hundreds of British passengers.

VIDEO: Handwashing: It's not as simple as you think, as these NHS workers show, Gangnam Style

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