More than a million people have now contracted the norovirus this winter, official figures reveal amid fears the outbreak could overwhelm emergency services.
Levels of infection of the winter vomiting bug, which usually peak in January, are now running at almost twice those of the same time last year.
Calculations are that 1.018million people have been hit with the virus this season, 83 per cent higher than the same period in 2011.
Laboratory tests by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) have confirmed 3,538 cases of norovirus this season, up from 3,046 cases last week.
Officials work on a ratio of one laboratory case probably means there are a further 288 cases among people who do not seek medical treatment and are not tested.
The latest figures, which show no let up in the grip it has on the nation, compare with 1,934 cases last Christmas.
During the two weeks up to 23 December there were 70 hospital outbreaks reported, compared to 61 in the previous fortnight, bringing the total of outbreaks for the season to 538.
The outbreak has sparked alarm among the emergency services who have urged people not to phone 999 amid fears operators will be overwhelmed by emergency calls.
One ambulance service warned a rise in calls about the bug could get in the way of sending paramedics to life-threatening emergencies such as car crashes.
Phil Convery, who is Infection Control Leader for South Central Ambulance Service, said: “Winter is traditionally the busiest time for your ambulance service and as such, we are urging patients with flu or norovirus not to call 999 so that valuable resources remain available to respond to genuinely life threatening medical emergencies.”
The distribution of norovirus cases across the season varies significantly from year to year, but the number of cases has risen earlier than expected this year, said the HPA
John Harris, an expert in norovirus from the HPA said: “The number of laboratory confirmed cases has risen once again as it appears that we have seen the rise in cases that usually begins in January start a little earlier than we normally expect.
“Norovirus is very contagious, and very unpleasant. To help prevent spread of the disease, it’s important that people who believe they are unwell with the virus maintain good hand hygiene and stay away from hospitals, schools and care homes, as these closed environments are particularly prone to outbreaks which can cause severe disruption.”
Norovirus can be transmitted by contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, by contact with an infected person, or by the consumption of contaminated food or water. Symptoms of norovirus include a sudden onset of vomiting and/or diarrhoea. Some people may have a temperature, headache and stomach cramps. The illness usually resolves in one or two days and there are no long-term effects. The Telegraph
Reblogged from The Survival Place Blog.