Vomiting bug claims 100,000 victims per week

More than 100,000 people a week are being struck down by a stomach bug which is sweeping Britain in the biggest outbreak for five years.

Norovirus, also known as winter vomiting disease, is partly to blame for the record numbers of people who failed to return to work after the Christmas break, according to doctors.

Hospitals have also been affected, with wards closed and restrictions in place.

The number of cases this year is the highest since 2002, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said. It urged those infected with the bug, which causes diarrhoea and vomiting, to stay at home for 48 hours after their symptoms disappeared to reduce the risk of spreading the illness. Sickness appears 12 to 48 hours after infection and usually persists for 12 to 60 hours. Most people recover within a day or two.

Sufferers should stay at home after their symptoms have passed and keep away from surgeries and hospitals, the Royal College of GPs said. There is no specific treatment other than taking paracetamol and drinking lots of fluids.

Norovirus is the most common cause of infectious gastro-enteritis and outbreaks occur frequently in confined communities such as schools, offices and care homes. The virus, which is spread by contact with an infected person or contaminated surface, is not often dangerous but the very young and the elderly are at risk of complications from dehydration caused by diarrhoea.

Professor Steve Field, of the Royal College of GPs, said the number of new cases was still rising and could top 200,000 a week. "Surgeries and hospitals have been swamped with people wanting advice," he added. "Wash your hands regularly so you don't infect anyone and stay at home for two days after the symptoms have gone."

Darren Simpson, a GP in Bradford, said he had seen a large number of people with norovirus over the festive period. He said: "Very few people follow the advice on staying away from work because they have unsympathetic or nagging bosses. It is the worst time of year to catch it. Because many workplaces are understaffed owing to leave and bank holidays, there is increased pressure to attend work if you can."

In a typical year, between 600,000 and one million people catch the bug, but the norovirus season began particularly early this winter and could cost the NHS more than 100m because of the ward closures.

The number of cases in England and Wales notified to the HPA between early September and early December was 1,325, compared with 685 for the same period in 2006. However, the true number of victims is far higher perhaps as much as 1,500-fold because most do not visit their GP. A total of 1,122,874 people called the NHS Direct helpline over the 11-day Christmas and New Year holiday 61 per cent more than last year. The second-most common reason for calling was vomiting and abdominal pain. Mike Sadler, its chief officer, said: "Call patterns have been markedly different from our previous experience."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Junior Reports Developer / Application Support Engineer

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Ashdown Group: BI/ SSRS Developer

£40000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An experienced BI/ ...

Recruitment Genius: Ecommerce Sales Executive

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A highly successful e-commerce ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Manager

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced marketeer is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas