Winter vomiting bug could cancel Christmas for thousands as cases hit 900,000

Winter vomiting bug could cancel Christmas for thousands as cases near 900,000
Number of people affected is 83 per cent higher than this time last year due to an early outbreak of the virusMost cases usually occur between January and MarchNumber of people affected has doubled in one week

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UPDATED:

16:26 GMT, 19 December 2012

Norovirus is threatening to ruin Christmas for thousands of people as the number of cases continues to soar.

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

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

Up to 900,00 people are already thought to have been affected so far.

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The dotted line representing 2012/13 shows how, in the latter part of 2012, cases of norovirus have rocketed

The dotted line representing 2012/13 shows how, in the latter part of 2012, cases of norovirus have rocketed

And more than 5,000 NHS workers are calling in sick every day with the winter vomiting bug, the Mail has discovered.

Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, said this year’s large early outbreak had probably been given promted by the cold weather last month. This drives people inside, which helps the virus to be transmitted.

It could also have got off to 'an early start', he said. 'Once the virus has got off to a good start it feeds off itself until it has run out of steam.'

The dotted line representing 2012/13 shows how, in the latter part of 2012, cases of norovirus have rocketed

The dotted line representing 2012/13 shows how, in the latter part of 2012, cases of norovirus have rocketed

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 and holidaymakers on two cruise ships have also been affected.

Figures
released yesterday 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.

NOROVIRUS: THE BUG WREAKING HAVOC NATIONWIDE

Norovirus is highly contagious and can be transmitted by contact with an infected person, by contact with contaminated surfaces or objects or by consuming contaminated food or water.

The virus spreads rapidly in closed environments such as hospitals, schools and care homes.

Symptoms of norovirus 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.

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 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.

IF YOU SUSPECT YOU HAVE THE BUG

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 visit the NHS Direct website:
ww.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/CheckSymptoms/SATs/DandV5AndOver.aspx

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.

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.

'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.'

VIDEO What you need to know about the winter vomiting bug

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