Over the last year, hospital admissions for the ‘winter vomiting bug’ have nearly doubled, with the over-65s disproportionately affected and the majority of outbreaks now occurring in nursing homes. According to the UK Health Security Agency, norovirus cases in England have risen “significantly” to their highest level in a decade (UKHSA).
Patients with diarrhea and vomiting, or norovirus-like symptoms, occupied an average of 743 adult hospital beds last week, an increase of 88% from the previous week. The standard for that period last year was 302. The virus is commonly referred to as the “winter vomiting bug” because it spreads rapidly during the colder months.
The increase disproportionately affects the elderly, with most outbreaks now occurring in nursing homes. Additions have also appeared in schools and hospitals.
According to the UKHSA, cases are currently 66% higher than the five-year average. Nonetheless, because this period included a lockdown, fewer people would have sought help from their doctor or hospital, implying that the prevalence in the broader community was likely to be much higher.
People with symptoms of the illness should go to work or stay home, and parents should keep their children home from school after any signs of the virus have cleared after two days.
Contact with someone carrying the virus or contaminated surfaces spreads the virus quickly. Most people recover completely within two or three days, but it can cause dehydration in some people, particularly the young and old, and those with weakened immune systems.
“We are seeing the highest levels of norovirus at this time of year in over a decade,” said Dr. Lesley Larkin of the UKHSA Gastrointestinal Infections and Food Safety Division.
The most significant increase in laboratory-confirmed norovirus is among people aged 65 and over. While high cases in this age group can be expected at this time of year, current levels haven’t been seen in more than a decade.
According to Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director for England, hospital cases of norovirus have increased “significantly,” mirroring what is seen in the community and care homes.
“The majority of reported cases are in the over-65 age group, and we’re also seeing an increase in reported outbreaks, particularly in care home settings.”
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