South West bears brunt of norovirus outbreak
The winter vomiting bug led to the closure of 1,500 hospital wards last year, figures show.
There were a total of 1,818 norovirus outbreaks in hospitals in England last year, leading to the closure of 1,513 wards, according to figures from the Health Protection Agency.
Hospitals in the South West of England appear to have been the worst hit, with 363 wards closed. The East of England saw the fewest, with just 15 units shut.
Experts yesterday said that the number of people suffering has lowered in recent weeks, with the latest data showing that there was a 32 per cent decrease in the number of cases during the first week of 2013 compared to the last week of 2012.
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The HPA said that in October and November, 356 outbreaks were reported in hospitals – a 140 per cent increase over the same period during the pervious season.
Surveillance by health officials shows that the 2012/13 norovirus season began early, with a new strain of norovirus responsible for many cases.
The new variant of the bug, called Sydney 2012, first identified in Australia, has become the “dominant strain” and will have caused many of the cases of the recent outbreak, the HPA said.
In October, when the number of cases started to increase, the HPA performed genetic testing of norovirus strains in England and Wales.
They found a “cocktail of different strains” circulating around the population. But recent analysis has shown that Sydney 2012 – first identified in Australia last year – has overtaken all others to become the dominant strain.
Norovirus is highly contagious and can be transmitted through contact with an infected person or contaminated surfaces and objects.
It is known to spread rapidly in environments such as hospitals, schools and nursing homes. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, temperature, headache and stomach cramps.