The number of NHS hospitals in Scotland with wards closed due to norovirus has declined over the spring in line with the expected seasonality of norovirus infection, also known as the winter vomiting bug. The latest data indicate that norovirus is currently affecting nine boards, inclusive of 14 hospitals. A total of 20 wards in these hospitals were closed on 19th April.
Norovirus activity peaked on 18th January this year, with 53 wards closed in NHS Scotland, covering 21 hospitals in 10 NHS boards. 2009/10 has been a year of high norovirus activity across the UK.
Norovirus ward closures in Scotland are reported weekly by Health Protection Scotland (HPS). These data give a snapshot of ward closures each Monday and are used for preparedness purposes by NHS boards.
Professor Jacqui Reilly, Head of Group for Healthcare Associated Infection at HPS said: “Norovirus is different to other healthcare associated infections in that it is often caught in the community and then brought into the hospital, where it easily spreads. Norovirus causes an unpleasant but generally short-lived illness that usually lasts about three days. There is no specific treatment other than rest and fluids. People who are otherwise fit and healthy will make a full recovery without any medical intervention.”
Hospital patients who have norovirus infection will often be treated in isolation or cohorts with other affected patients. It is generally unnecessary for people with norovirus who are not in hospital to visit GP surgeries or hospital A&E departments. If the symptoms persist, or seem to be getting worse, patients should phone NHS 24 or ask for a telephone consultation with their GP.
Norovirus is highly infectious and it can spread rapidly in closed environments such as hospitals, residential care homes and schools. We therefore strongly advise people with the infection not to visit friends or relatives in hospitals or residential care homes and to stay away from work or school until they have been symptom free for at least 48 hours. Professor Reilly said “While norovirus infection does tend to fall over the warmer months, we cannot be complacent. Everyone can play their part in limiting the spread of this unpleasant illness by adhering to good hand hygiene practices and keeping away from hospitals and care homes if they are unwell.
Although norovirus in hospitals is to extent inevitable, HPS is undertaking ongoing surveillance and evaluation to ensure that hospitals have the best possible advice on actions to take to reduce the risk of transmission in all healthcare environments.”
Health Protection Scotland
Tel: 0141 300 1117
Fax: 0141 300 1170
Notes to the Editor
Health Protection Scotland reports on ward closures due to norovirus each Thursday. The current report is available at http://www.hps.scot.nhs.uk/haiic/ic
Norovirus, which used to be known as winter vomiting, is the most frequent cause of infectious gastroenteritis in Scotland and the rest of the UK, affecting between 600,000 and one million people each year. Latest data on the numbers of laboratory reports of norovirus in Scotland is available at http://www.documents.hps.scot.nhs.uk/ewr/pdf2010/1013.pdf
The typical symptoms are projectile vomiting and diarrhoea following the sudden onset of nausea. Illness can last from 12 hours to three days.
Norovirus affects people of all ages. Most people recover very quickly but immunity to the virus is short-lived and infection is easily transmitted from one person to another. It thrives in semi-closed environments such a schools, nursing homes and hospitals.
There is no specific treatment for norovirus infection apart from letting the illness run its course and drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. This is particularly important for the very young and the elderly.
When gastrointestinal infections are introduced to closed communities such as hospitals, residential care homes and schools and can spread rapidly from person to person and become difficult to contain. Furthermore, these infections are more serious for vulnerable hospital patients and frail elderly people in nursing homes.