The number of NHS beds closed due to norovirus-type illnesses has doubled within a week – but remains within expected levels, the Government has said.
Department of Health data for England has revealed the average number of hospital beds closed per day more than doubled from 720 to 1,545 between the weeks ending December 11 and December 18 due to the winter bug, which symptoms include vomiting and diarrhoea.
In the same period last year, the figure rose less sharply, from an average of 1,002 beds to 1,805.
Wards are closed in many NHS hospitals as part of steps to control the virus and stop it spreading between patients.
Doncaster Royal Infirmary and Montagu Hospital said six wards have been closed due to the virus, but that four are being cleaned and will reopen shortly.
Maurice Madeo, deputy director of infection prevention and control at the hospital, said that remembering to wash your hands is the most crucial factor in slowing the spread of the disease. “Hand hygiene is the single most important thing that we can do to prevent the spread of infections,” he said.
“We advise staff to wash or gel their hands before and after every patient contact – and that’s advice we could all adopt.”
Further figures were also made available by the Health Protection Agency on the number of cases of norovirus confirmed in laboratories.
Data up to December 11, published earlier this week, showed that the weekly number of cases for norovirus in the previous three weeks were slightly below the average number for this time of year.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “The levels of norovirus seen this week are well within expected levels for this time of year.
“If you are concerned and have symptoms consistent with norovirus you should call NHS Direct or the local GP practice for advice.”
Norovirus is highly contagious and can be transmitted through contact with an infected person or contaminated surfaces.
The virus is known to spread rapidly in closed environments such as hospitals, schools and nursing homes.
Symptoms include sudden vomiting, diarrhoea or both, a temperature, headache and stomach cramps. The bug usually goes away within a few days.
Although people can suffer from norovirus at any time of the year, activity increases in the winter months. Most cases are seen between October and April.
Hospitals are asking anyone suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting to stay away until 48 hours after symptoms have cleared.