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 Friday, 3 January, 2003, 15:14 GMT
Vomiting bug cases at record high
Hospital ward
The virus has closed hospital wards
The number of cases of the winter vomiting bug doubled over the last 12 months to reach their highest ever level, official figures have revealed.

There were 3,029 confirmed reports of the bug, otherwise known as norovirus, or Norwalk-like virus, during the first 10 months of 2002, according to the Public Health Laboratory Service.

This compares with 1,604 during 2001 and is higher than the previous peak year, 1996, when 2,437 cases were confirmed.

The virus causes sickness, diarrhoea and fever and typically lasts from 24 to 48 hours.

No summer lull

It typically peaks during the winter months but experts at the PHLS' communicable disease surveillance centre noted that in 2002 cases did not decline during the summer.

They also noted that most of the extra cases last year were among the elderly - 68% of all cases were in people aged 65 or over.

Generally, since 1992, more than three quarters of norovirus outbreaks reported to the PHLS occurred either in hospitals or residential homes.

The virus is easily spread through the air when people are sick, through contaminated toilets or in food and drink.

The PHLS said the rise in the number of confirmed cases did not necessarily mean that incidence of the disease had increased.

Increased awareness of the virus and better diagnostic methods could also be factors in the rising number of confirmed cases.

Common bug

Dr Bob Adak, consultant epidemiologist at the PHLS, said Norwalk-like virus was the most common cause of infectious diarrhoea in this country.

Although it has unpleasant symptoms, they are relatively short lived.

This means many people will not bother to go to the doctor and so their cases do not appear in official statistics.

One study in 1995 estimated that there could be as many as 6,000 cases a year in England.

Dr Adak said it was not clear why there were outbreaks between July and September last year but not in previous years.

He said if someone with the bug was sick, the virus could end up in aerosol form on surrounding surfaces and objects.

The next person to touch these could then easily transfer the virus into their mouth and also become ill.

He said: "The basic point is strict hygiene. The more thoroughly you clean and the more you have good hygiene in place, the less likely you are to have more infections."

See also:

22 Jan 02 | T-Z
19 Nov 02 | Wales
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