Keep infections at bay – health bosses call on patients with flu or norovirus to stay away from hospital

The NHS in York and North Yorkshire is calling on residents and communities for help to prevent the spread of winter infections.

An outbreak of influenza or norovirus in hospital could have serious consequences for patients who are already poorly and can lead to entire wards being shut down and quarantined, putting an additional strain on NHS resources at a time when they are most in demand.

With the number of cases of norovirus starting to rise in our communities – not uncommon at this time of year – health leaders from York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and clinical commissioning groups in York and North Yorkshire are appealing directly to people with symptoms of influenza or norovirus to act responsibly and stay away from GP surgeries, hospitals and other healthcare settings, where possible.

NHS Scarborough and Ryedale Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) Chairman, Dr Phil Garnett, said: “When we have loved ones who are poorly and in hospital, it’s natural we want to be with them, even if we’re feeling under the weather ourselves.

“However, influenza and norovirus are particularly contagious and the risk of passing these infections on to the person you are visiting in hospital who may already be quite ill – as well as other sick people and hospital staff – is extremely high.

“When a flu or norovirus outbreak occurs, particularly in an environment like a hospital, it is difficult to contain and can lead to the closure of entire wards, putting a huge strain on local NHS resources at a time of year when they are most in demand.”

York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust Chief Nurse, Heather McNair, added: “Closing wards helps us to contain an outbreak, but it means beds become unavailable and pressure is created throughout the entire system. Visitors can help by staying away if they have the flu or diarrhoea and vomiting and for at least two days after their symptoms have stopped.”

Norovirus is the most common stomach bug in the UK, affecting people of all ages. Like the flu, it spreads rapidly in closed environments such as hospitals, schools and care homes. It can be spread through contact with an infected person, by contact with contaminated surfaces or by consuming contaminated food or water.

Typical symptoms of a norovirus infection include the sudden onset of projectile vomiting and watery diarrhoea. Some people also experience headaches, mild temperature and stomach cramps.

There is no treatment for norovirus but it is important people who have the winter vomiting bug keep hydrated to combat the loss of fluids. People with norovirus will recover in a day or two, but will remain infectious for up to three days after recovery.

Common symptoms of flu include a high temperature, fatigue, headache, general aches and pains and a dry, chesty cough. The best remedy is to rest at home, keep warm and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Paracetamol or ibuprofen may help lower a high temperature and relieve aches.

Anyone who thinks they may have flu or norovirus is advised not to visit a GP surgery, but to stay at home and call NHS 111 for advice if necessary.

There are simple steps people can take to reduce the risk of spreading norovirus:-

  • Thorough hand washing – wet, lather, scrub, rinse and dry
  • Don’t prepare food while infected
  • Immediately clean and disinfect surfaces after episodes of diarrhoea and vomiting
  • Wash clothes and bed linen that may be contaminated thoroughly
  • Drink plenty of fluids – stay away from caffeine and pay particular attention to the young and elderly for signs of dehydration

To reduce the risk of spreading flu, people should regularly clean surfaces such as door handles, telephones and computer keyboards to get rid of germs (hand contact with infected surfaces is a common way for a virus to spread), use tissues to cover the mouth when coughing or sneezing, put used tissues in the bin as soon as possible and wash hands regularly.

For more information please visit www.nhs.uk/norovirus and www.nhs.uk/flu