By Adam Gretton
, Health correspondent
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Hospitals in Norfolk and west Suffolk got through the Christmas and New Year period relatively unscathed, despite an increase in norovirus cases nationally.
So far this winter, just seven wards across four hospitals have been closed as a result of outbreaks of the virus, known as the winter vomiting bug. Last winter there were 18 ward closures in the East.
Heath chiefs called on people to maintain good hand hygiene and to avoid visiting hospitals if they have been suffering from a stomach bug to help avoid a 2013 outbreak of norovirus.
There are currently no ward closures at the main hospitals in Norfolk, apart from two bays being shut on a ward of the James Paget University Hospital near Great Yarmouth.
However, the Health Protection Agency warned that it expected norovirus cases to rise over the coming weeks following a dip during the Christmas and New Year period.
The agency added that there had been a 63pc increase in the number of confirmed cases across the UK in the final half of 2012 and first week of 2013, compared to the same period in 2011/12.
The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital closed the Elsing ward and Gunthorpe ward to new admissions last month as a result of norovirus outbreaks on December 18 and December 31.
Emma McKay, director of nursing, said restrictive visiting was implemented at the hospital when a case was recorded.
“We issue advice to visitors to try and keep norovirus out of our hospital and it is important that people do not visit patients if they have been ill with a stomach bug in the past few days or in contact with someone who has had sickness or diarrhoea. We also advise our patients, visitors and staff is to wash their hands as a matter of routine with hot soapy water. Hand sanitisers and alcohol gel will work against bacteria and flu viruses but they will not protect you against norovirus,” she said.
One ward at the James Paget University Hospital was closed for five days in December.
Linda Hawtin, head of infection control, said ward staff were on heightened alert for any patient with unexplained sudden onset diarrhoea or vomiting.
“We would appreciate visitors to abide with the visiting policy of only two visitors at a time, don’t sit on the beds, don’t eat and drink on the ward. We ask people not to visit if they have or have had diarrhoea/vomiting until they are at least 48 hours clear,” she said.
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn has had one ward closure so far this winter
Lesley Taylor, consultant nurse for infection prevention and control at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital said: “Norovirus is very easy to catch and pass on and controlling it is very challenging in the hospital environment. We rely on people visiting the hospital to work with us by ensuring good hand hygiene - washing with soap and water is best - and by avoiding unnecessary visits,” she said.
At the West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, three wards were closed to new admissions at different times during December as a result of norovirus. One of those wards remained closed at the start of January, but reopened at the weekend.