Struggling hospitals urge vomiting-bug patients to stay home
The number of people struck by one of winter's nastiest bugs is dramatically on the rise - prompting an appeal by hospitals to anyone suffering symptoms of vomiting or diarrhoea to stay at home.
The upsurge in the winter vomiting bug, known as the norovirus, has already seen struggling hospitals shut down beds, worsening the trolley crisis.
Victims of the bug, which is highly contagious, can suffer projectile vomiting and diarrhoea within minutes or hours.
There have been 2,586 laboratory-confirmed cases up to the middle of this month and 124 outbreaks, including an outbreak of the bug at the Slieve Russell Hotel, forcing its closure this week.
Public health specialist Dr Paul McKeown said patients and visitors who have symptoms of vomiting or diarrhoea should not attend hospitals or other facilities and instead phone their GP or ask a pharmacist for advice.
"This bug, while often unpleasant, rarely causes serious problems for healthy children and adults," he said.
"It can, however, be a serious problem in hospitals and residential facilities where it can lead to ward closures, postponed operations, and, worryingly, can result in very serious illness for patients in hospital who are already weakened by other medical conditions.
"The levels circulating in the community are highest during the winter season. Every few years, we get unusually busy (upsurge) seasons with particularly high levels of norovirus - this season is likely to be especially busy.
"In general, if somebody feels they may have norovirus, they should stay away from hospital, nursing homes, the GP's surgery, hotels, restaurants, work, college and school until they have recovered and are symptom-free for 48 hours.
"Healthy adults and children who contract this infection need to rest. There is no specific treatment for norovirus apart from sipping plenty of clear fluids such as water or flat lemonade. The worst of the symptoms are over in a day or two."
And there was further evidence of winter's bite yesterday after figures showed 50 patients were admitted to hospital last week suffering from the flu, including eight who were placed in critical care.
One death from flu has so far been recorded this winter.
Meanwhile, Tallaght Hospital in Dublin is still battling an outbreak of the superbug Carbapenem Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) months after it first emerged in the adult section.
A spokeswoman said all appropriate precautions and screenings are being undertaken and the number of cases is decreasing.
Patients are asked to contact their GP before coming to the emergency department.
The hospital has said that patients can expect to face delays during very busy periods.