A winter vomiting virus is sweeping Britain, forcing hospital wards to shut as cases hit a five-year high.
Thousands of people have already been hit by the bug, which has arrived earlier than usual this year, with experts warning the problem will worsen over winter.
There have been 53 outbreaks at NHS Trusts across the country, with 45 hospitals forced to close wards while they carry out deep cleans.
The bug has also struck down many front-line health workers, leaving departments badly understaffed.
Figures from the Health Protection Agency reportedly showed the number of confirmed reports of the virus has risen by 52 per cent.
A confirmed case counts as one where laboratories have positively identified the bug in samples sent by hospitals or GPs.
There have been 1,975 of these confirmed cases since July, compared to 1,301 cases by this time last year.
These numbers have been described as “the tip of the iceberg” however, as the vast majority of victims do not report their symptoms to GPs.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, the University of Aberdeen’s Professor Hugh Pennington said: “No-one can predict what it’s going to do except that we are going to have a reasonably hard time of it, I am sure. It would be grossly optimistic to suggest otherwise.”
He added: “It’s a nightmare because wards are closed, it’s a nightmare because staff are off, who are essential. And it’s obviously a nightmare for any patients in hospital who get it who are already pretty sick.”
Norovirus is an extremely contagious vomiting bug that thrives in locations where large numbers of people gather, such as schools and hospitals.
It is often spread by touching the same doors and hand rails as someone with the virus.
Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable, and usually make up the majority of those admitted to hospital with the virus.
Although it is known as the winter vomiting bug, it can actually be caught all year round. Experts believe cases are significantly higher in winter because people spend more time together indoors