CASES of the winter vomiting bug are expected to rise this year, Scotland’s top doctor has warned.
Chief medical officer Sir Harry Burns issued the warning after revealing more cases of the highly contagious norovirus had been detected earlier this year.
He has urged health professionals and patients to look out for signs of the illness, which can be fatal in people who are already very weak or ill. Dr Burns said: “Rates of norovirus fluctuate from year to year with occasional spikes so we cannot estimate how severe this winter season will be. However, it has started earlier than usual this year.
“This may be indicative of a higher than normal level of norovirus circulating this winter.
“Norovirus spreads quickly where people are living or working in close proximity such as schools, hospitals, care homes, offices and hotels. The virus is highly infectious and unpleasant but fortunately most people make a full recovery with no complications.” He said health staff would remain “vigilant” over the coming weeks and assured patients health boards were “ready to cope with whatever the winter has in store”.
Every year, a number of hospital wards are forced to close to new patients when outbreaks of the bug are detected to minimise its spread. Last winter 374 wards closed – with a peak of 22 in the worst week. But this was far fewer than in winter 2009-10 when 757 wards were closed across Scotland due to norovirus.
The main symptoms are nausea followed by vomiting and diarrhoea. People who catch the bug are advised to drink plenty of fluids and also take oral rehydration solutions.
Chief nursing officer Ros Moore urged Scots to take simple precautions to stop infections spreading, such as making sure their hands are clean.