The latest NHS England figures show that norovirus hospital cases are almost three times higher than they were this time last year. About 350 people were being treated for the vomiting bug in hospital every day last week. This was up from 126 during the same week last year, and included 13 children requiring paediatric care, up from three last year.
Norovirus is the most common infectious cause of vomiting and diarrhoea. It spreads easily through contact with someone who has the virus or with contaminated surfaces. While most people make a full recovery within two or three days, the virus can lead to dehydration, especially among the very young, the elderly or those with weakened immune systems.
‘We all know somebody who has had some kind of nasty winter virus in the last few weeks and today's data shows this is starting to trickle through to hospital admissions, with a much higher volume of norovirus cases compared to last year,’ said NHS national medical director Prof Sir Stephen Powis.
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The study comes amid evidence that winter pressures on the NHS are starting to grow, with one in four patients arriving by ambulance last week waiting at least 30 minutes to be handed over to A&E teams. Some 22,588 delays of half an hour or longer were recorded across all hospital trusts in the week to November 26.
Health experts have called on the public to take steps to try and stop the virus from spreading. ‘If you or a family member have been sick with norovirus, you should avoid visiting hospitals and care homes, and not return to work or school, until 48 hours after your symptoms have stopped,’ said Amy Douglas, norovirus epidemiologist at the UK Health Security Agency.
‘Make sure to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration which can result in hospitalisation, particularly for the most vulnerable,’ she said.