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Norovirus forces hospitals to close more than 1100 beds in a week

NHS chiefs concerned as cases 28% higher than average for past five years

Caroline White

Friday, 06 December 2019

Norovirus has forced hospitals in England to close more than 1100 beds over the past week, prompting urgent warnings from NHS chiefs for the public to take steps to help control the spread of the infection.

The latest data* from Public Health England (PHE) showed that the number of laboratory confirmed norovirus cases during November 11th-24th was 28% higher than the average for the past five years.

And almost double the number of hospital beds have been closed every day over the past week than at the same time last year, in a bid to curb the infection’s impact on hospitals and other services.

Those with the infection are being urged not to go back to work or school until at least 48 hours after symptoms pass, to avoid passing it on to others, particularly the young and the old.

In response to this latest outbreak, the NHS has launched a new social media campaign to help people avoid catching the bug if possible, and to help them recognise and deal with the symptoms of norovirus at home if they do get infected.

Health bosses are also encouraging those who need it to seek help from the 24/7 NHS 111 phone and online service rather than going to hospital or their GP, where they risk infecting others.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said: “We’ve already seen a number of hospitals and schools affected by norovirus, and unfortunately instances like these are likely to rise over the coming weeks.

“It’s a really unpleasant illness to catch, but for the vast majority of people it will usually pass in a couple of days, and self-treating at home is the best way to help yourself and avoid putting others at risk.

“Crucially, if you’re experiencing norovirus symptoms it’s important that you don’t return to work or school for 48 hours after they clear – and avoid visiting elderly or ill friends and relatives – to avoid spreading it to other people.”

Nick Phin, National Infection Service deputy director at Public Health England, said: “Cases of norovirus are at higher levels than we would expect to see at this time of year, although this is not unprecedented.

“Practising good hygiene is one of the best ways to protect against norovirus. This includes thorough hand washing with soap and warm water after using the toilet and before eating or preparing food.

“We advise people not to visit GP surgeries and hospitals with symptoms. However, if they are concerned they should contact NHS 111 or talk to their GP by phone.”

The symptoms appear one to two days after people become infected and typically last for up to two or three days.

Infections rarely require medical treatment and most people will recover within a few days. It is, however, highly contagious, and is easily passed on at home, at hospital, or in the local community, and those who have been infected remain carriers for some time.

*PHE National norovirus and rotavirus Report. Public Health England, 5 December 2019.

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