Around 100,000 people were struck down with the winter vomiting bug over Christmas – a rise of 72 per cent on the year before.
The dramatic rise was attributed in part to an early outbreak of the illness which closed dozens of hospital wards as it swept across the country.
A total of 3,877 laboratory-confirmed cases of norovirus have now been recorded in England and Wales compared to 2,255 in 2011. But the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said that for every reported case, an estimated 288 were not flagged up, meaning around 1.12 million people could have contracted the illness.
This is about 100,000 more than during the pre-Christmas period – until 23 December – when 1.01 million people were estimated to have come down with the bug.
The number of reported cases dropped slightly during the Christmas week but this was in keeping with dips at the same time in previous seasons, the HPA said.
The bug can be transmitted through contact with an infected person or contaminated surfaces and objects. Symptoms, which usually last a few days, include vomiting, diarrhoea, or both, a temperature, headache and stomach cramps. Although people can suffer from norovirus at any time, activity increases in the winter.