Warning over norovirus vomiting bug levels in Scotland

Norovirus particles
Image caption Sir Harry Burns described norovirus as "highly infectious and unpleasant"

Higher than normal levels of the winter vomiting bug could be circulating this year, according to Scotland's top doctor.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Harry Burns warned that cases of norovirus have been detected earlier this year.

In the past week, the infection has led to ward closures at hospitals in the north east, Tayside, the south of Scotland and the Western Isles.

Sir Harry said the health service would "remain vigilant and ready to cope".

He, and Chief Nursing Officer Ros Moore, have urged Scots to take simple precautions to stop infections spreading this winter.

Sir Harry 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, and this may be indicative of a higher than normal level of norovirus circulating this winter.

Clean hands

He described the bug as "highly infectious and unpleasant" and added: "Norovirus, or the winter vomiting bug, spreads quickly where people are living or working in close proximity such as schools, hospitals, care homes, offices and hotels."

Nausea followed by vomiting and diarrhoea are the main symptoms of norovirus.

Those who catch the bug are advised to have plenty of non-alcoholic, non-milky drinks and also take oral rehydration solutions.

Those who are infected should ensure their hands are clean, to prevent the infection spreading, and they should not prepare food for others, particularly babies and the elderly.

Ms Moore said: "The symptoms of norovirus usually clear up in a couple of days and are generally not serious.

"However, diarrhoea can be serious in babies and the elderly because of the risk of dehydration.

"If diarrhoea is persistent or there are other symptoms such as bleeding, you should contact your GP."

She added: "The Scottish government and health boards monitor norovirus outbreaks closely throughout the year, taking every step to minimise its impact on people who use and work in our hospitals.

"But there are simple steps that everyone can take to prevent the spread of the virus, including washing your hands properly.

"If you have vomiting or diarrhoea you should not go to school or work until 48 hours after your symptoms have ended."

During last winter 374 wards were closed across Scotland due to norovirus outbreaks.

The Scottish government said it was important to remember that closing wards was an outbreak control measure, designed to minimise further spread.

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