The winter vomiting bug, norovirus, is thought to have affected around 880,000 people in England and Wales since August 2012 and likely to keep increasing this winter. It is very likely that this figure will rise to over a million before the virus goes into submission.
Currently rates of incidence are up 83 percent on the same period last year. 60 hospitals have had outbreaks so far. Some hospital wards and schools have already been forced to close.
There have been over 3000 cases confirmed through laboratory testing. From past experience health scientists can be confident that for every single reported and confirmed case there are 288 people who do not report symptoms to a doctor. Most people simple stay home and wait to recover.
What is Norovirus?
“Noroviruses were originally named for the places where they were identified, but these single-stranded, nonenveloped RNA viruses are now grouped within the Caliciviridae family and are classified into 5 genogroups; groups I, II, and IV affect humans.” (Weinstein, 2008).
How is Norovirus Spread?
It spreads by faecal contamination, usually being passed from hand to mouth. Only an extremely small amount of the virus is needed to cause an infection. As both vomit and stools are contaminated it is very easy for a sick person who is vomiting violently and suffering from diarrhoea to accidentally spread the virus to nearby surfaces such as toilet seats, taps and door handles.
The only really effective way to prevent catching the winter vomiting bug is to ensure that you have no contact with people who have had the disease, or any people who have come into contact with others. This is why hospital wards close, it is the only way the break the cycle of infection.
Also, while you can build resistance to the virus you can also catch it more than once.
Hospitals and School Close
Sandwell General Hospital in West Midlands closed 5 wards, City Hospital Birmingham closed 3 wards. Hospitals closed to visitors and anyone sick to not go into a hospital.
In 2 primary schools in Black Country 120 children have suffered from the virus. From one school, Glebefields 70 of 396 primary school children have fallen ill. Closed early for Christmas. The announcement on their website says:
Glebefields will be closed on Wed 19th, Thurs 20th and Friday 21st due to illness of children and staff. The school will re-open on Tuesday 8th January 2013.
Christmas parties have also been cancelled at schools and hospitals, and many closed schools and hospitals are undergoing a deep clean to try to remove all traces of the virus.
Wash Your Hands
It is important to wash your hands thoroughly whenever you have been to the toilet – even if you do not use the toilet yourself. If you assist children you will still be in contact with toilet seats and handles, and at risk.
Stay Away from GP’s, Doctors and Hospitals
While the virus is unpleasant most people will fight the disease naturally and it will pass within 2-3 days. It is therefore best to avoid going to see your doctor or go to a hospital as you may just infect more people without actually improving your recovery.
“Gastrointestinal Flu: Norovirus in Health Care and Long-Term Care Facilities” by Robert A. Weinstein, Maria A. Said, Trish M. Perl and Cynthia L. Sears. Clin Infect Dis. (2008) 47 (9):1202-1208.doi: 10.1086/592299