Health bosses are calling on residents to heed advice on norovirus to stop it spreading this winter.
Figures for the NHS in Cumbria and the North East showed that last year 4,000 bed days were lost to norovirus between November and January, with 1,500 beds being left empty as a result of the virus spreading.
The message to friends and families, who may want to visit patients in hospitals, is to ‘visit responsibly’ and see out symptoms at home to prevent spreading the sickness and diarrhoea bug.
Norovirus – also called the winter vomiting bug – is one of the most common stomach bugs in the UK.
Prof Chris Gray, NHS England’s Medical Director for Cumbria and the North East, said: “We’ve already seen a number of clinical settings and schools affected by norovirus this winter, and unfortunately instances like these are likely to rise over the coming months as the temperature drops.
“If you are feeling unwell, have diarrhoea or vomiting, please don’t visit a hospital for at least 48 hours after the last symptom has gone. Norovirus can have a serious impact on patients who are often more vulnerable to catching it.
“Self-treating at home is the best way to help yourself and avoid putting others at risk. You don’t normally need to see your GP if you have the bug because there’s no specific treatment for it – antibiotics won’t help because it’s caused by a virus.
“If you’re concerned, the NHS 111 service is a great alternative to presenting to your GP in person.”
Norovirus rarely requires medical treatment and most people will recover from it within a few days but remain carriers for some time.
Symptoms of norovirus include suddenly feeling sick, projectile vomiting, and watery diarrhoea. Some people also have a slight fever, headaches, painful stomach cramps and aching limbs. The symptoms appear one to two days after you become infected and typically last for up to two or three days.
Adults can take antidiarrhoeal and anti-emetic (anti-vomiting) medication.
Tips to avoid norovirus:
• Good hygiene is vital in helping to reducing the chances of catching norovirus;
• Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after you use the toilet, or before touching or preparing food. Antibacterial hand gel alone does not stop a viral infection like norovirus;
• Washing your hands properly should take around 20 seconds – the time it takes to sing ‘happy birthday’ twice;
• When preparing food, which you shouldn’t do if you’re infected, all fresh produce should be washed thoroughly and surfaces should be wiped down and disinfected before cooking;
• Wash used items of clothing separately on a high heat to kill germs;
• Flush away any infected faeces or vomit in the toilet and clean the surrounding area well with a bleach based product.