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Norovirus infections reach record high


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« on: January 12, 2008, 05:16:49 am »

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Vomiting bug to get worse

Fears that infection will spread as schools and offices reopen
Over 100 hospital wards closed

    * Jo Revill, Whitehall editor
    * The Observer,
    * Sunday January 6 2008
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This article appeared in the Observer on Sunday January 06 2008 on p2 of the UK news section. It was last updated at 23:43 on January 05 2008.

Infections from the debilitating norovirus stomach bug will peak this week as millions return to work after the holidays and spread the germs, the government has warned. People are advised to protect themselves by washing their hands thoroughly at all times.

The virus, which was responsible for closing more than 100 hospital wards last week, can also be guarded against by disinfecting bathrooms and washing cups and dishes properly.

Health Minister Ivan Lewis said: "We want to get the message across to everyone that washing your hands properly with soap and warm water, or even an alcohol gel, can help reduce the spread of infections and help protect you, your family and those around you.'

NHS workers are also urged to be vigilant and to remember the guidelines of the 'cleanyourhands campaign'.

With noroviruses, toilets are particularly important as many of the germs are passed on via toilet seats that are not cleaned properly. Some studies suggest that as many as 50 per cent of women and 75 per cent of men fail to wash their hands after visiting the bathroom.

Disinfecting surfaces in bathrooms and kitchens is also important, because the virus can become airborne when someone is sick. Bleach-based cleaning agents should be used, and any food which has been handled by a person with the virus should be thrown out.

Doctors estimate that more than 100,000 people a week are catching the infection - and the rate may peak this week as the virus takes the opportunity to spread in the workplace and classrooms. Reported cases of the illness from early December are at a five-year-high, but the real figure is likely to be much greater as most sufferers do not seek medical attention. People struck down have been urged by GPs not to go back to work until the symptoms have fully disappeared.

Dr Darren Simpson, a GP in Bradford, said his practice had seen a large number of people with norovirus in recent weeks. 'Very few people follow the advice of staying away from work, often due to unsympathetic bosses. But it's the worst time of year to catch it as a lot of places are understaffed due to leave and bank holidays so there is increased pressure to attend work if you can.'

Noroviruses are members of the Caliciviridae family of viruses which cause gastroenteritis, or an inflammation of the stomach and the large intestine. The infection is not normally dangerous but the very young and very old are most at risk of complications from dehydration.

The bug can be spread by contact with an infected person, through contaminated food or water, or by contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. But it is also able to survive on practically any surface, including glassware, sinks, doorknobs and railings. A person who puts a hand to their mouth after touching a contaminated surface can be infected.

Doctors have advised patients that as soon as symptoms appear they become contagious to others, and that they remain infectious for at least three days, and often longer, after they recover.
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