Norovirus warning as 60 schools in England are hit by the winter vomiting bug and official figures show cases are 26% higher than average this month
- Public Health England figures showed 336 people were infected in two weeks
- The figure covers a two-week period and is higher than the average 262
- PHE said rates are higher than usual for November but ‘not unprecedented’
- Local media across the country have reported school and hospital ward closures
Dozens of schools in England have been hit by outbreaks of an illness thought to be the winter vomiting bug, norovirus.
Around 60 schools in the North East have had pupils and staff off sick with a flu-like illness and some have even had to close to try and stop infection spreading.
Public Health England said it was likely adults and children were coming down with flu or norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhoea.
Separate statistics published today suggested norovirus rates are 26 per cent higher than they usually are at this time of year.
A total of 332 people are confirmed to have had the bug between October 28 and November 10, with 18 outbreaks closing hospital wards across England and Wales.
Health officials have again warned people with symptoms of the illness not to go to hospitals or GP surgeries because they might spread it to others.
Norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting bug, is not usually serious and most people recover without treatment in a few days, but it is extremely easy to spread (stock image)
The South West of England had the most confirmed individual cases during the two-week period, with 62, and the South East had the most hospital outbreaks with six.
Over the last five years labs have reported an average of 262 norovirus cases during the last week of October and first of November.
This year’s figures are a rise of 70, equating to about five more infections each day, but these only account for official diagnoses – many people recover at home.
Local media have reported ward closures across the country, with hospitals in Devon, Warwickshire and Swansea affected as well as schools in the north of England.
Chronicle Live, which covers the North East of England, reports 60 schools in the region have been hit by cases of the vomiting bug.
Some schools, such as Burnopfield Primary School, Newton Hall Infants’ School and Durham Blue Coat Junior School in County Durham have even had to close.
Dr Gayle Dolan, consultant in health protection for PHE North East, told Chronicle Live: ‘Around 60 schools across the region are reporting absences due to symptoms of likely viral illness including influenza (flu) and norovirus.
‘We expect viral illnesses of this kind to circulate in schools and the community at this time of year and we have been providing advice to parents and schools to help reduce the spread of infection.’
North Devon District Hospital was on ‘red alert’ and closed a ward in the first week of November, Devon Live reported.
The Leamington Spa Courier said at the end of October a ward on Warwick Hospital had to be closed because of the virus.
WHAT IS NOROVIRUS AND HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO CLEAR UP?
Norovirus is one of the most common stomach infections in the UK and it is referred to winter vomiting bug as it usually occurs in winter.
Usually it clears up by itself within 24 to 48 hours but it can very serious for already frail patients, and can lead to dehydration.
The virus, which can also cause diarrhoea, is extremely contagious and can create huge disruption in hospitals as it spreads so quickly between patients.
But the winter vomiting bug has a tendency to mutate and some strains are worse than others, leading to higher numbers of infections.
And the BBC reported last month that wards in three hospitals in Swansea had to be closed after 75 people got infected.
There have also been reports of an outbreak at a Lego event in Bristol and primary schools in Kent, Teesside and North Tyneside this week.
Nick Phin, spokesman for Public Health England, said: ‘Cases of norovirus are at levels slightly higher than we would expect to see at this time of year.
‘These levels are not unprecedented as norovirus activity varies from year to year and we continue to actively monitor the situation.
‘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.’
Norovirus is not usually serious and most people recover without treatment in a few days, but it is extremely easy to spread.
It’s transmitted from person to person by coughing, sneezing and close contact, and can also be caught from touching the same surfaces or food as someone who has it.
It spreads most quickly in hospitals because people are in close quarters and there are a lot of people coming and going.
Symptoms include a high temperature (38°C or higher), a headache or achey arms and legs.
People who think they might have it should stay at home and avoid going to hospital, where it can spread much faster and affect vulnerable people.
Symptoms should go away within 72 hours, according to the NHS, but people can phone NHS 111 if they are concerned.
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