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HPA: 1,500 wards were shut by norovirus

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The winter vomiting bug led to the closure of 1,500 hospital wards last year, figures show.

There were a total of 1,818 norovirus outbreaks in hospitals in England, leading to the closure of 1,513 wards, according to figures from the Health Protection Agency.

Hospitals in the south west of England appear to have been the worst hit, with 363 wards closed in the region.

The east of England saw the fewest hospital ward closures, with just 15 units shut as a result of the bug.

The HPA said that in October and November, 356 outbreaks were reported in hospitals, a 140% increase over the same period during the previous season.

Surveillance of the bug by health officials shows that the 2012-13 norovirus season began early and health experts recently revealed a new strain of norovirus had been responsible for the majority of recent cases.

The new variant of the bug, called Sydney 2012, has become the “dominant strain” and will have caused many of the cases of the recent outbreak, the HPA said.

In October, when the number of cases started to increase, the HPA performed genetic testing of norovirus strains in England and Wales.

They found a “cocktail of different strains” that were circulating around the population. But recent analysis has shown that Sydney 2012, first identified in Australia last year, has overtaken all others to become the dominant strain.

While other strains are still in circulation, Sydney 2012, which does not cause more serious illness than other strains, is responsible for the majority of recent cases in England and Wales.

Norovirus is highly contagious and can be transmitted through contact with an infected person or contaminated surfaces and objects. It 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, with most cases prevalent between January and March.

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