Christmas parties are key culprits in spreading winter vomiting bug Norovirus

Christmas parties are key culprits in spreading the winter vomiting bug, which can be contagious for THREE WEEKS
Norovirus expert Professor Ian Clarke says people can be infectious for THREE WEEKS after recoveringHe believes people hugging and kissing at parties is increasing the spreadSales of anti-bacterial hand gel have soared 52 per cent this weekAround 900,000 people now thought be affected

By
Daily Mail Reporter

PUBLISHED:

14:28 GMT, 20 December 2012

|

UPDATED:

18:54 GMT, 20 December 2012

Christmas parties are causing the winter vomiting bug to spread rapidly as sufferers are attending while still infectious, warns a norovirus expert.

Ian Clarke, Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Virology at the University of Southampton, claims that people can remain contagious until three weeks after they have recovered.

Prof Clarke told MailOnline that patients going to parties where they are kissing and hugging others are almost certainly infecting more people.

Figures released on Tuesday show the number of people affected by the illness is 83 per cent higher than this time last year

Figures released on Tuesday show the number of people affected by the illness is 83 per cent higher than this time last year

He said: 'Some people secrete virus after their symptoms have elapsed.

'This can go on for up to three weeks but the amount gets less and less.'

New figures from Superdrug show that people are concerned about the problem – sales of anti-bacterial hand gel have increased 52 per cent this week compared to last week.

Figures released on Tuesday show the number of people affected by the illness is 83 per cent higher than this time last year due to an early outbreak of the virus.

It's estimated that around 900,000 people have now been affected.

Most cases usually occur from January to March, making this the worst start to the norovirus season on record.

The virus is showing no signs of abating, with the number of people affected almost doubling in the space of a week.

Dozens of hospital wards have been closed.

The Royal Lancaster Infirmary has closed all its wards to visitors in a bid to stem a 'significant outbreak' of the winter vomiting bug.

A total of 140 patients and 20 staff at the hospital have been affected by symptoms of norovirus.

Bosses at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust (UHMBT) made the decision yesterday and said the ban would stay in effect for at least two days.

Sales of anti-bacterial hand gel have increased 52 per cent this week compared to last week

Sales of anti-bacterial hand gel have increased 52 per cent this week compared to last week

In a statement, the trust said: 'In order to try to resolve a significant outbreak of norovirus at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, UHMBT has had to make the difficult decision to close all wards to visitors in the hospital, for at least the next 48 hours.

'Despite every effort by the trust, the highly contagious winter bug has continued to spread, now affecting seven wards.'

Chief operating officer Juliet Walters said: 'Whilst we understand that this may seem drastic to some people, our usual infection control methods need to be supplemented with the assistance of the public to help control and resolve the outbreak.

'It has been widely reported that the levels of this bug are 83 per cent higher nationally than last year. There is also a huge increase of the bug in the community and we believe that members of the public who are coming into the hospital, carrying the bug or similar bugs – sometimes without knowledge – may be contributing to the problem.

'By reducing the number of people coming into our hospital, we can reduce the risk of norovirus spreading to further wards.

IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE IT

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
lost fluids.

Use
NHS 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.

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.

Schools across the country have also been affected by the illness.

A school in East Sussex has become the latest to close because of an outbreak of the norovirus.

The figures released earlier this
week from the Health Protection Agency show there were 337 confirmed
laboratory reports of norovirus in the week ending December 9 and 236
for the week ending 2 December – a rise of 42 per cent.

The number of confirmed cases – where samples have been checked in the lab – have risen from 1,669 to 3,046 this season.

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.

Hospital
outbreaks are also double what they were this time last year. The HPA
figures show there were 61 hospital outbreaks during the last two weeks
up to December 16. In same fortnight in the previous year there were 35.

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.

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.

John Harris, an expert in norovirus
at the HPA, said: 'The number of laboratory confirmed cases has risen
again, following the drop in the number we reported last week.

HOW CAN I AVOID CATCHING NOROVIRUS
Wash your hands at least five times a day with soap and waterIf someone in your family gets it, protect everyone else by cleaning your bathroom with bleach-based cleanersAvoid food prepared by anyone who has had the virus within the last 48 hoursScrub your kitchen with bleach-based cleaning fluids

'This
is typical of the norovirus season where the number of laboratory
reports fluctuates between October and April with the bulk of cases
usually occurring between January and March.'

The
Government's Chief Medical Officer Professor, Dame Sally Davies, said:
'For most people norovirus is an unpleasant but short lived illness.
There is no specific treatment but patients are advised to drink plenty
of fluids and stay at home.

'Anyone who is concerned should call either NHS Direct or their local GP Practice for advice. Please avoid attending A&E as this could spread the illness to vulnerable people and healthcare workers.'

A Department of Health spokesperson added: 'The NHS is well prepared for the increase in winter related health problems which are typical at this time of year.

'Our weekly published figures show the number of beds closed across the NHS due to norovirus symptoms is around 2 per cent. This compares to 2.9 per cent of beds that were closed during the peak of norovirus cases last winter.'