Forty hospital trusts and 800 patients fall victim to winter vomiting bug in just one weekTotal norovirus cases up a fifth on last yearWards closed to visitors in bid to halt spread
Almost 800 patients have been struck down by the winter vomiting bug in hospitals in the last week.
More than 40 trusts are known to be affected by outbreaks of norovirus and most have closed wards to visitors in an attempt to halt the spread.
Figures from the Health Protection Agency show that the total number of cases so far this season is up a fifth compared with the same time last year.
Outbreak: The worst-hit hospital last week was the Royal Free in Hampstead, North West London (above) which saw 131 patients struck down with the norovirus
But officials insist that the weekly rates are no worse than usual – and in fact the number affected in the last week is slightly lower than last year.
Up to a million Britons are struck down with the virus every year and the usual symptoms are sudden vomiting, diarrhoea, headache and temperature.
It isn’t normally life threatening butit leads to severe dehydration in the elderly, very young children or patients with underlying health problems.
As the virus is so contagious it spreads very quickly in hospitals and entire wards can be affected.
Last week 38 NHS trusts reported outbreaks to the Department of Health with a total of 794 patients infected with the virus.
The figures are twice as high compared with the previous week when only 331 patients were reported as having the bug.
In the last few days since the Department of Health updated its figures outbreaks have been reported inanother three NHS trusts.
Experts say hundreds of others outsidehospital are likely to have caught the virus, although cases are never officially reported.
The figures quoted in the graphic are for the numbers of hospital beds unavailable due to norovirus. They are higher than the number of patients as not all beds are occupied.
Professor John Oxford, of Queen Mary,University of London, said: ‘Norovirus is a big problem but most of it is below the surface. ‘The hospital thing is just the tip of the iceberg.
“A lot of it is going on in the community but we don’t know about it because who will go to their doctorwith vomiting and diarrhoea
Warning: Dr Clare Gerada, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, says patients should not visit their doctor as they might spread the illness
‘I can imagine that for every case that’s in hospital, there may be five or ten cases in the community.’
He added: ‘Noroviruses are tough little devils. Soap isn’t enough. You need a bit of chemistry and it won’t harm to use a disinfectant to wash your hands and kitchen surfaces.’
Dr Clare Gerada, chairman of the RoyalCollege of GPs said: ‘It’s about normal for this time of year, it certainly isn’t any worse than last year.’
She warned those with norovirus symptoms not to go to their GP in case they spread the illness. Those concerned should call their surgery instead.
One of the worst hit hospitals is the Royal Free in Hampstead, North West London, where 131 beds were hit last week.
In the Countess of Chester NHS Trust 113 have been infected, and there were 74 affected at Leeds Teaching Hospitals.
Figures from the Health Protection Agency show there have been 1,607 confirmed cases of norovirus in England since July, compared with 1,350 for the same period last year.
But this only represents a fraction ofthe actual numbers of those infected – they only refer to samples whichhave been checked in the lab.
The virus can survive outside the body on any surface – including lift buttons, stair rails or computer keyboards for up to 12 hours.
It can be caught all year round, despite being known as the winter vomiting bug. Rates generally peak in December and January.
When outbreaks occur in hospitals, the infected ward will be closed to visitors to try to halt its spread.
The HPA advises those affected with the virus to drink lots of fluids. The best way to try to avoid it is towash hands with hot soapy water regularly, especially before eating or handling food.