Norovirus cases in UK ‘at highest seasonal level in a decade’

File photo of a member of staff on an NHS hospital ward (PA Wire)
File photo of a member of staff on an NHS hospital ward (PA Wire)

Norovirus cases are at the highest point seen at this time of year in over a decade, health authorities have warned.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said that most reported cases were among over-65s with an increasing number of outbreaks in care homes.

Figures from the UKHSA show that the number of laboratory-confirmed norovirus cases in the week up to February 19 was more than double the five-season average before Covid-19.

The main symptoms of the virus include nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting. Most people who are infected make a full recovery within two to three days.

Norovirus is highly infectious and is easily spread through contact with someone who has been infected or with contaminated surfaces.

An average of 547 adult hospital beds were occupied last week by patients with diarrhoea and vomiting or norovirus-like symptoms.

While the figure is down 12 per cent on the previous week, it is three times the figure recorded at the equivalent point last year.

Dr Lesley Larkin, Surveillance Lead in the Gastrointestinal Infections and Food Safety (One Health) Division at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “Please stay at home if you are experiencing norovirus symptoms and don’t return to work (particularly if you work with vulnerable people or food) or send sick children to school or nursery until 48 hours after symptoms have cleared.

“If you have a loved one in a care home or hospital, please avoid visiting until 48 hours after symptoms have cleared.

“Regular hand washing is really important to help stop the spread of this bug, but remember, alcohol gels do not kill off norovirus so washing with soap and warm water is best.”

Those who are sick should avoid cooking and helping prepare meals for others until 48 hours after symptoms have stopped as norovirus can be spread through contaminated food.

Separate figures show that the rate of Covid-19 hospitalisations decreased in the week up to February 19.

Swab positivity for flu remained stable at 2.4 per cent during the same time period, down by 0.1 per cent from the week before.

The number of people in hospitals in England with flu has also continued to fall.

An average of 518 beds a day were filled by flu patients last week, a drop of 19 per cent from 638 the previous week and down 90 per cent since the beginning of January.

High Covid-19 and flu cases led to significant pressure on the NHS during the winter months, with record waits for treatment in A&E and for ambulances.