Norovirus cases at five-year high

More patients have been struck down with the norovirus vomiting bug this season compared with the previous five years, according to official figures.

Data from Public Health England (PHE) shows reports of the illness had reached 2,435 this year - 12% more than the average for the same period over the last five years.

The figure is also 71% higher than the same period last year, although last winter saw unusually low levels of norovirus.

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In the week ending on Christmas Day, the outbreaks of vomiting and diarrhoea resulted in more bed closures than during the same period last year - rising from an average of 559 beds closed per day to 699.

Hospitals reported 20 outbreaks of norovirus in the first two weeks of December - 17 of which led to bay or ward closures and 13 of which were confirmed as the bug.

In total so far this season, there have been 163 hospital outbreaks reported.

Professor Nick Phin, deputy director of the National Infection Service at Public Health England, said: "Cases of norovirus are still at the levels that we would expect to see around this time of year in the winter vomiting bug season. Exactly when the peaks in activity occur can vary season to season.

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"Those who get infected with norovirus will usually make a full recovery within one to two days. However, it is important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, especially in the very young or elderly. Good hygiene is essential to preventing infection, this includes thorough hand washing after using the toilet and before eating or preparing foods."

The number of laboratory reports of the bug rotavirus this season is 1,136, which is also 3% higher than the average for the period from 2003 to 2013.

NHS England also released figures showing there were 291,808 calls to the NHS 111 service in the week ending on Christmas Day as temperatures plummeted and a cold weather alert was issued.

This was nearly 9% fewer than the number of calls to the helpline in the same week last year.

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Of calls answered, 93.2% were answered within 60 seconds and 1.5% of patients abandoned their calls after waiting 30 seconds.