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20 February 2015
People with vomiting and / or diarrhoea are being advised to stay away from GP surgeries and hospitals, unless it is an emergency and instead to call their GP.
Norovirus, also called viral gastroenteritis or the winter vomiting bug, can cause significant disruption to services. When brought into a hospital it can spread extremely quickly, resulting in bed and ward closures and staff sickness.
Although people can suffer from Norovirus at any time of the year it becomes much more prevalent in the colder and wetter months, with the majority of cases occurring from around October to April. It is the most frequent cause of viral gastroenteritis and affects approximately one million people in the UK every year.
Norovirus comes on suddenly, with little warning and it causes a very unpleasant, but generally short-lived illness from which most people will recover without treatment. The illness usually completely resolves in one or two days and there are no long term effects.
As well as diarrhoea and / or vomiting, some people may have stomach cramps, a raised temperature, headaches and aching limbs. People who are unwell should ensure they drink plenty of fluids to remain hydrated and it's particularly important for young children or the elderly who are unwell with the virus.
If people have symptoms of diarrhoea and or vomiting the advice is simple: do not visit loved ones in hospital or nursing homes until you have been free of symptoms for at least 48 hours.
Those affected should also stay away from work, or school, until they have recovered, as it can be transmitted by contact with an infected person; by consuming contaminated food or water or by contact with contaminated surfaces or objects.
Colette Thomas, Lead Nurse - Infection Prevention and Control, at Bedford Hospital, said: “An outbreak of Norovirus can result in the closure of hospital wards, which seriously impacts on the services we provide.
“Norovirus is a particular problem for hospitals because we are looking after already unwell people who may have reduced immunity and are susceptible to the virus. Therefore we need to guard against the virus being brought in from the community.
“To help prevent the spread of Norovirus we should all practice excellent hand hygiene by making sure we wash our hands frequently with soap and water - especially after going to the toilet and before eating.
“It is important that if you have symptoms of diarrhoea and or vomiting that you don’t visit the hospital unless it is an emergency.”
Local GP and urgent care lead for Bedfordshire CCG, Dr Fran Ross, said: “Norovirus is highly contagious and there is nothing your GP or A&E doctors can do while you have it. Drink plenty of water and take paracetamol for any fever or aches and pains and take special care to prevent babies, small children and the elderly from dehydrating. Only ring your GP if you already have a serious illness or your symptoms last longer than a few days.”
Further information and advice on Norovirus can be found at www.nhs.uk
. Norovirus is not a notifiable disease so reporting is voluntary but it is estimated that the virus affects between 600,000 and a million people in the UK each year.
2. Concerned individuals should contact their GP or call the NHS 111 service.
3. Norovirus is highly infectious and may be caught:
- By direct contact with the vomit or diarrhoea of an affected person.
- By direct contact with an infectious person which is why washing hands with soap and warm water after any contact is so important.
- From food that has been contaminated with the virus by someone with symptoms.
- From food that was contaminated at source, such as oysters from sewage-polluted sea areas.
- From inanimate objects including flat surfaces, door knobs etc that have been contaminated by the virus after someone has vomited in the area.
- By breathing in the virus that is in the air around someone who has just vomited.
- Possibly by breathing in and ingesting virus from the air surrounding someone who is incubating norovirus but hasn't got any symptoms yet.
4. Hospitals have standard procedures when dealing with norovirus outbreaks and these were compiled in collaboration with the Hospital Infection Society, Infection Control Nurses Association and the British Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.
Activities would include:
- Rapid disinfection and cleaning
- Cohorting patients who are ill
- Reducing the number of staff who go into the affected area to reduce the risk of the infection spreading
- Non-essential staff should be excluded from affected clinical areas
- Wards should be closed to new admissions to prevent the introduction of further susceptible individuals
Advice for the public when managing a bout of norovirus:
- 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.
- Contact your GP surgery by telephone to get advice on how to manage 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.