THE outbreak of the winter vomiting bug has spiked again as the virus continues to hold hospitals and public areas in its grip.
It is estimated that between 1,000 and 5,000 people a week are being laid low by the virus, which is hitting hospitals, schools, nursing homes, creches, hotels and workplaces.
Latest figures show there were 130 laboratory-confirmed cases of the Norovirus – up from the previous week.
However, this points to thousands more actual cases in the community since most cases go unreported, with UK scientists estimating that for every one case confirmed in a laboratory, there are 288 further patients afflicted who are unconfirmed.
About 190 cases of Norovirus were notified to the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) at the end of November, dropping to 115 cases the following week.
The latest figures of 130 reveal a further spike.
Evidence collated over Christmas week is "sketchy" at best, according to the HPSC and so the next available data will be released in two weeks time.
Meanwhile, the centre has renewed its call for members of the public to respect hospital visiting restrictions and to follow hand hygiene directions when visiting patients following the recent increase in winter vomiting bug cases.
HPSC specialist in public health medicine Dr Paul McKeown described the Norovirus as the "gastrointestinal equivalent of the common cold".
Members of the public can help stop the spread of illness by respecting hospital and nursing home visitor restrictions and by using the alcohol gel supplied as they enter and leave the facilities, he said.
While outpatient departments and emergency departments are not affected, patients are asked not to attend hospital if they have been affected by vomiting and/or diarrhoea in the last 48 hours.
"Norovirus is highly infectious and very resilient.
"It is capable of spreading from person to person, by food and water, via surfaces and through the air," Dr McKeown explained.
It is capable of surviving for a number of weeks in the environment and on surfaces such as door handles, toilet pulls, TV remote controls, light switches or worktops.
And while it does not usually cause serious illness, it is very easily spread and can cause ward and bed closures in hospitals.