‘Surge’ in norovirus cases in England adds to pressure on hospitals
Norovirus cases in hospitals in England have jumped sharply and are now at their highest level for the 2022/23 season, figures show.
An average of 840 adult hospital beds were occupied last week by patients with diarrhoea and vomiting or norovirus-like symptoms, up 52% from 551 in the previous week.
It is the highest number since reporting began for the current virus season in November 2022.
It is also nearly three times the level at this point last year, when the average stood at 293, according to NHS data.
Norovirus is the most common infectious cause of vomiting and diarrhoea.
It spreads easily through contact with someone who has the virus or with contaminated surfaces.
While most people make a full recovery within two or three days, the virus can lead to dehydration, especially among the very young, elderly or those with weakened immune systems.
Amy Douglas, senior surveillance scientist of gastrointestinal infections at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said the over-65 age group is being most affected by the latest increase, with the majority of outbreaks in care homes.
“Hand gels do not kill norovirus so handwashing with soap and warm water is most effective,” she added.
“If you or your child get the virus you should not return to work – particularly if you work with vulnerable people or food – or send your children back to school until 48 hours after symptoms stop.”
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director for England, said a “surge” in norovirus is one of a number of factors adding to “significant” pressure on NHS staff, along with increased demand for beds and a rise in calls to the 111 service.
“Despite this, the NHS is continuing to deliver progress against its elective recovery plan, with the number of people waiting over 18 months cut by over 9,000 in January compared with the previous month,” Professor Powis added.
“We know there has been little let up for staff this week, with some hospitals experiencing their busiest Monday of the year while strike action continues to present major challenges to hospitals.
“So it is important that people continue to come forward for the care they need by using 999 in an emergency or using 111 online for other conditions.”
Tens of thousands of juniors doctors in England staged a 72-hour walk from Monday to Wednesday this week in protest at levels of pay.
NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, urged the Government and unions to get round the table and “redouble” efforts to find a solution to the dispute.
NHS staff answered 333,778 calls to the 111 service last week, up 12% from 297,586 the previous week.
The number of people in hospital in England with Covid-19 is also continuing to increase.
A total of 8,434 patients had tested positive for coronavirus as of March 15, up 10% week-on-week.
Covid-19 hospital cases have been on a broad upwards trend since the end of January, mirroring a rise in prevalence of the virus among the population.
Patient numbers peaked at 9,535 during the wave of infections at Christmas 2022.
Around two-thirds of patients with Covid-19 are in hospital to be treated primarily for something else, but the precautions necessary to stop the virus spreading are likely to add further pressure on NHS staff.
By contrast, flu levels remain on a downwards path, with an average of 386 hospitals beds in England filled by cases last week, down 10% from 430 the previous week.
The figure stood at 5,441 at the start of the year, following a steep rise in the run up to Christmas.