NHS chiefs issued a winter vomiting bug alert today after more than 1,100 hospital beds had to be closed last week.
Patients with norovirus were urged to stay at home and wait for the symptoms to pass rather than attending A&E and risk spreading the infectious disease.
The number of laboratory-confirmed cases between November 11 and 24 was 28 per cent higher than the average over the past five years, according to Public Health England. There have been at least 85 outbreaks this winter.
Almost double the number of hospital beds have been closed every day over the past week than at the same time last year, in a bid to stop the spread of diarrhoea and vomiting. Hospitals are often forced to close entire wards to enable them to be decontaminated.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England medical director, said: “We’ve already seen a number of hospitals and schools affected by norovirus and unfortunately instances like these are likely to rise over the coming weeks.
“It will usually pass in a couple of days and self-treating at home is the best way to help yourself and avoid putting others at risk.
“Crucially, if you’re experiencing norovirus symptoms it’s important that you don’t return to work or school for 48 hours after they clear — and avoid visiting elderly or ill friends and relatives.”
Norovirus is one of the most common stomach bugs in the UK and is highly contagious. It is more common in winter but can be caught at any time of the year. Infections rarely require medical treatment.
Nick Phin, national infection service deputy director at PHE, said: “Practising good hygiene is one of the best ways to protect against norovirus. 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.”