Norovirus bug outbreak at 35 hospitals closes dozens of wards

Health officials have issued a warning about the serious threat posed by the norovirus bug after an outbreak has seen cases jump by 20 per cent on this time last year.Norovirus bug outbreak at 35 hospitals closes dozens of wardsThe winter diarrhoea and vomiting bug has affected 35 hospitals, with hundreds of beds unavailable after 27 wards were shut in the past two weeks to isolate infected patients and deep cleaned.

Overall confirmed individual cases across the country from July to mid-December are 19 per cent higher than during the same period last year.

Norovirus is extremely contagious and can be lethal to the elderly, very young or very sick patients.

People who have been ill are being asked not to visit friends and relatives in hospital until they are well.

Medical bosses at hospitals across the country are working to prevent the condition spreading and to reopen wards that were closed yesterday.

Nationally data from the Health Protection Agency released last week shows that norovirus rates remain below the level expected for this time of year, possibly reflecting the mild weather until now.

The HPA declares norovirus season has started when 4.8 per cent of calls to NHS Direct are about vomiting. Last week there were 4.2 per cent of calls about vomiting.

The first sign of Norovirus is usually a sudden sick feeling followed by forceful vomiting and watery diarrhoea. Other symptoms include a raised temperature, headaches, stomach cramps and aching limbs.

The data showed that last week the North East and South West were the worst affected.

Three hospitals reported that 124 beds are unavailable as a result of the ward closures. It is thought that the true number across all eight hospitals will be more than 200.

Wards were also closed to new patients at Montagu Hospital in South Yorkshire while 82 beds were closed on two wards at Northwick Park in Harrow, north London.

Croydon Health Services said it had one ward closed to new admissions.

Two wards were also closed at Warwick Hospital and the Richard Wells Ward was shut at Bedford hospital to contain a bout of gastroenteritis.

Director of nursing and patient services at Bedford hospital, Eiri Jones, warned visitors not to sit on hospital beds and not to visit at all if they had been ill in the preceding 72 hours.

Queens Hospital in Burton had one ward temporarily closed after a number of cases of diarrhoea and vomiting while the Countess of Chester Hospital had visiting restrictions in place at four wards to contain the outbreak.

A 14-bed ward at the University Hospital Southampton Trust was closed and County Durham and Darlington said it had seen isolated cases but had not had to close any wards.

Visitors to Northern Devon hospitals were warned only close relatives should visit patients and Mid Essex Hospital Trust said it had closed wards last weekend because of a similar outbreak.

The Royal College of GPs say the virus has not been a major problem so far this year – although outbreaks can occur very quickly, as the complaint is extremely infectious.

A statement from the Health Protection Agency said: “Norovirus is highly contagious and 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.

“Anyone who thinks they may have norovirus should not to go to their doctor’s surgery or A&E as this could spread the illness to vulnerable people and health care workers.”