The NHS in the North East and Cumbria is appealing to people to heed health advice on norovirus as figures show the effects on hospitals and patients last winter.
Almost 4,000 bed days were lost to norovirus between November and January.
Of those, there were nearly 1,500 unoccupied bed days, which means beds that could have been used for patients were left empty due to the spread of the virus.
The remaining 2,500 bed days lost involve beds specifically occupied by patients who, on top of their original reason for admission, were also suffering with norovirus symptoms in hospital.
Winter bugs are unpleasant for patients, take up resource and bed space and slow down patient flow through the hospital system.
The message to friends and families who may want to visit patients in hospitals is to visit responsibly and see out symptoms at home to prevent spreading the sickness and diarrhoea bug.
Norovirus is one of the most common stomach bugs in the UK. It’s also called the winter vomiting bug because it’s more common in winter, although you can catch it at any time of the year.
NHS England’s medical director for Cumbria and the North East, Professor Chris Gray, said: “We’ve already seen a number of clinical settings and schools affected by norovirus this winter, and unfortunately instances like these are likely to rise over the coming months as the temperature drops.
“If you are feeling unwell, have diarrhoea or vomiting, please don’t visit a hospital for at least 48 hours after the last symptom has gone.
“Norovirus can have a serious impact on patients who are often more vulnerable to catching it.
“Self-treating at home is the best way to help yourself and avoid putting others at risk. You don’t normally need to see your GP if you have the bug because there’s no specific treatment for it – antibiotics won’t help because it’s caused by a virus.
“If you’re concerned, the NHS 111 service is a great alternative to presenting to your GP in person.”
Norovirus rarely requires medical treatment and most people will recover from it within a few days but remain carriers for some time.
The symptoms of norovirus are suddenly feeling sick, projectile vomiting and watery diarrhoea. Some people also have a slight fever, headaches, painful stomach cramps and aching limbs.
The symptoms appear one to two days after you become infected and typically last for up to two or three days.
Tips to avoid norovirus are:
l Good hygiene is vital in helping to reducing the chances of catching norovirus.
lWash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after you use the toilet, or before touching or preparing food. Antibacterial hand gel alone does not stop a viral infection like norovirus.
lWashing your hands properly should take around 20 seconds – the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice
lWhen preparing food, which you shouldn’t do if you’re infected, all fresh produce should be washed thoroughly and surfaces should be wiped down and disinfected before cooking
lWash used items of clothing separately on a high heat to kill germs.
lFlush away any infected faeces or vomit in the toilet and clean the surrounding area well with a bleach-based product.