Plymouth health experts issue 'winter bug' warning
HEALTH experts are appealing for the public to follow good hygiene advice to ensure a winter vomiting bug is halted in its tracks.
NHS Devon, Plymouth and Torbay and NHS Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have warned that with the cold weather upon us, norovirus is now circulating in the community.
The highly-infectious virus causes sickness and diarrhoea and the bug (previously known as 'norwalk') can leave some people – especially the young and elderly – dehydrated and requiring medical treatment.
If it finds its way into hospital and care settings, it can disrupt patient care.
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A spokeswoman for Derriford Hospital said there were no closed wards as of yesterday evening, but visitors are urged to take precautions.
Dr Virginia Pearson, director of public health for the NHS in Devon, said:"At this time of year outbreaks of diarrhoea and vomiting, often called the 'winter vomiting disease', are particularly common in the community.
"In our hospitals friends and family are usually encouraged to visit their relatives whilst in hospital to cheer up their day and give them some company. However, we need to protect our patients. Our hospitals are looking after people who are unwell and may have reduced immunity. They are therefore more likely to catch norovirus."
Health professionals are advising anyone who has the symptoms of norovirus to avoid contact with others for a minimum of 48 hours after the symptoms have stopped; not to visit health care settings if you or someone you have been in contact with has had diarrhoea and/or vomiting until 48 hours after symptoms have ceased; wash your hands frequently with warm water and liquid soap, especially after using the toilet and before preparing food; and do not handle or prepare food for other people until you have been symptom free for a minimum of 48 hours.
The virus can be caught from contact with an infected person, by consuming contaminated food or water, or from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects.
Lisa Johnson, nurse consultant director of infection prevention and control for NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, said: "We are asking the public to follow these simple hygiene measures in order to protect the already sick and vulnerable in hospital and care settings from this nasty virus.
"It spreads very easily from one person to another and can survive on surfaces for a long time. It's so important to ensure you are free of it before you go back into circulation and to ensure areas affected are cleaned and disinfected to prevent infection of others."
Norovirus affects almost one million people in the UK each year but while it is a very unpleasant illness, it is generally short-lived and people tend to recover without treatment.
The main symptom is vomiting, which can come on very suddenly, and is often accompanied by diarrhoea. Some people may have a raised temperature, headaches and aching limbs.
Dr Pearson said: "We work very hard to identify and contain any cases of norovirus in our hospitals. If we have any confirmed cases in our hospitals we will close bays or wards and restrict visiting but this creates pressure on already very busy hospitals.
"Your help with keeping this unpleasant virus out of the hospital is greatly appreciated."