The UKHSA is reporting a 37% surge in cases of norovirus – often called winter vomiting sickness – compared to pre-Covid levels for the first weeks of January. As it warns ‘unusual norovirus activity’ will continue, a leading testing expert fears further strains on the NHS.
Cases of norovirus, commonly known as winter vomiting sickness, have soared by 37% compared to the same period pre-Covid.
A report from the UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) says cases for the first two weeks in January jumped by 37% over the five-season average pre–pandemic, with over 65s reporting the steepest rise.
A leading testing expert is concerned that the changing pattern may indicate a further surge to come.
He cautions that the virus has not returned to its overall pre–pandemic seasonal trend this winter and warns health professionals to take note of the UKHSA’s observation that ‘unusual norovirus activity will continue throughout the 2022–2023 season.
Dr Quinton Fivelman, PhD, chief scientific officer at London Medical Laboratory, says: “Norovirus is a very unpleasant virus. As its common name, winter vomiting bug implies, it often causes sickness and diarrhoea. Other symptoms include fever, headache and aching arms and legs.”
“Typically, it doesn’t last very long and usually goes away in two to three days, but it can lead to complications. In particular, children and the elderly can be badly affected by this virus and may require hospital treatment.”
“The obvious concern is that the NHS has no spare capacity to deal with a further winter epidemic, on top of Covid, flu and Strep A outbreaks. With industrial action in the health service set to escalate, increasing cases of norovirus couldn’t come at a worse time.”
“Commonly, the most serious complication from norovirus is dehydration, particularly if you or your child cannot keep fluids down. For babies and young children, seek medical advice if they stop breast or bottle feeding or show other signs of dehydration such as fewer wet nappies.”
“You should call 111 if you (or your child) have bloody diarrhoea or bleeding from the bottom, diarrhoea for more than seven days or vomiting for more than two–three days.”
“Concerning this sudden jump in cases, the good news is that we are unlikely to see a new mutation, despite the warning of unusual activity. This winter, the main strain continues to be genogroup 2 (GII), which makes up 74% of cases, with the main genotype being GII.4, causing 32% of cases. Last winter, GII caused 90% of cases and GII.4 specifically 48%.”
“Rather than any new variant, the main reason for this month’s spike in cases is likely to be that immunity against norovirus is fairly short-lived and fewer people were exposed to the virus than normal during the pandemic. Now everyone is mixing again, and cases are increasing. This virus spreads easily and quickly, more so than the other viruses causing illness this winter.”
With our immunity down, it’s sensible to take precautions to avoid this unpleasant virus, if possible. You can catch norovirus from:
- Close contact with someone with the virus.
- Touching surfaces or objects with the virus on them, then touching your mouth.
- Eating food that’s been prepared or handled by someone with norovirus.
“As with Covid, washing your hands frequently with soap and water is the best way to stop it from spreading. However, it’s important to note that alcohol hand gels don’t kill this bug.”
“A general health test might be a useful course of action for anyone concerned, to ensure they are in good health to fight infections and reduce the likelihood of needing access to health services this winter.”
“London Medical Laboratory’s General Health Profile Test provides people with a comprehensive check-up of their general health, including diabetes (HbA1c), gout, liver and kidney function, bone health, iron levels and a full cholesterol profile. Other more comprehensive tests check your vitamin D levels, which are often low at this time of year, and any potential thyroid or hormonal imbalances.”
“They can be taken at home through the post or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer these tests across London and nationwide in over 90 selected pharmacies and health stores. A full blood test can be added in-store to indicate a wide range of issues such as infection, anaemia and leukaemia.”