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Norovirus - winter vomiting bug


Monday, January 18th, 2010

Norovirus, the gastrointestinal equivalent of the common cold, is circulating in the community at present. In any year at least 1% (and in some years up to 5%) of the population can expect to be affected by this virus. This equates to an estimated 10,000 - 20,000 cases of Noroviral illness per week during a peak period, such as we are experiencing in Ireland at the moment.

Norovirus is highly infectious, capable of spreading from person-to-person, by food and water and through the air. Exact figures of the numbers of cases currently in the country are not known as many people suffering from Norovirus will recover at home without seeking medical attention, while others may seek medical treatment from their GP.

Cases have been recorded in a number of hospitals around the country in recent weeks. Hospitals have infection control measures in place to limit the spread of the virus which can include visitor restrictions. For example in the South; Cork University Hospital and Cork University Maternity Hospital have restricted visiting times to between 7.30pm - 8.30pm. Only one visitor is allowed per patient with strictly no children allowed to visit. Visitor restrictions are also in place in Letterkenny General Hospital, Cavan General Hospital and Roscommon County Hospital. Visitor restrictions are also in place in St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin. Cases had been reported at the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore however the hospital is currently free of the virus after a two week period of visiting restrictions.

Visitors are asked to respect where visitor restrictions are in place and should note that security staff at the hospitals are ensuring the restrictions are adhered to. Visitors are also advised that they must use the alcohol gel supplied as they enter and leave the hospital. While the Out Patient Departments and Emergency Departments are not affected, patients are asked to refrain from attending hospital if they have been affected by vomiting and/or diarrhoea in the last 72 hours.

Dr Kevin Kelleher, Assistant National Director of the HSE's Population Health commented; "Norovirus is very resilient and can survive for long periods in the environment and on surfaces such as door handles or worktops. The principal symptoms are nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Symptoms generally begin suddenly with nausea followed by projectile vomiting. A little later water diarrhoea may develop as well. Handwashing with soap and water (especially after contact with someone who is ill and after using the toilet) is extremely important, particularly if you are suffering from symptoms."

The most important steps in reducing the impact of Norovirus in healthcare settings are:

1. Reducing the likelihood of introduction: exclusion of ill staff from work for 48 hours after their last episode of vomiting and/or diarrhoea. Similarly relatives should not visit patients while they have symptoms of noroviral illness and for 48 hours after their recovery

2. Early control of possible outbreaks with immediate cleaning and environmental decontamination of soiled areas

3. Frequent hand washing with warm water and soap for all staff and patients

4. Segregation of those who are ill from those who are not

5. Limitation of movement of staff and patients

6. Sensible management of hospital visiting

Information on Norovirus from the HSE's Health Protection Surveillance Centre:

- General information

- For healthcare staff

- For employers and householders

- For the leisure industry


- ENDS -

Last updated on: 19 / 01 / 2010