Hospitals and nursing homes report surge in winter vomiting bug

MEDICAL experts are reporting a significant surge in the winter vomiting bug in nursing homes and hospitals around the country.

Strict visitor restrictions were introduced yesterday by management at St Mary’s Orthopaedic Hospital in Cork, due to an outbreak of the highly infectious virus.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) confirmed yesterday there had been a recent upsurge in the incidence of norovirus, commonly known as the winter vomiting bug.

Outbreaks, however, are being quickly controlled because of national guidelines in place, the public health watchdog stressed.

The manager of St Mary’s Orthopaedic Hospital Michael Murphy said the bug was widespread in the community and there was concern that people might unknowingly bring it into the hospital when visiting sick relatives or friends.

The hospital has restricted visiting to 6.30pm to 7.30pm with one visitor per patient and no children allowed. A complete visitor ban has been placed on part of the hospital.

Mr Murphy said they were urging people affected by vomiting and or diarrhoea or anyone with these symptoms not to visit the hospital under they had been symptom free for 72 hours.

HPSC specialist in public health medicine Dr Paul McKeown said hospitals around the country were reacting quickly to outbreaks and minimising the spread of the virus.

“We are in the middle of an upsurge and that will probably last for about another six weeks,” he said.

Dr McKeown said the last major upsurge in the bug was in 2002, with further significant surges in 2004 and 2006. “It has been quiet enough since then,” he pointed out.

“The norovirus changes slowly, a bit like the flu virus, so people’s immunity to it does not last,” he warned.

He pointed out that surveillance systems in hospitals nursing homes were very sensitive so the disease was being picked up quickly.

“Hospitals function as sentential surveillance centres and so if there is an increase incidence of patients with suspected norovirus, we also know it is in the community.”

Asked if enough was being done to control outbreaks, Dr McKeown said national guidelines published in 2003 had helped hospitals to react faster and more effectively and he was pleased with improvements.


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