Vigilance urged amid surge of the winter vomiting bug in nursing homes and hospitals

Infections are nearly four times higher in the first 10 weeks of 2023 compared to same period in 2022

Hospitals have been hit with 16 outbreaks of the virus, which causes vomiting and diarrhoea. Photo: Getty Images

Eilish O'Regan

Hundreds of nursing home residents and hospital patients have been struck down with the winter vomiting bug amid a surge of outbreaks.

Cases of the infection, known as norovirus, are nearly four times higher nationally in the first 10 weeks of this year compared to the same period in 2022.

Hospitals have been hit with 16 outbreaks of the infection, leaving 92 patients and staff ill. The virus causes vomiting and diarrhoea.

The numbers left ill in single-hospital outbreaks have ranged from two to 24, a HSE spokesman told the Irish Independent.

He said there have been 21 confirmed outbreaks of the winter vomiting bug in nursing homes.

Additionally, there have been four outbreaks of acute infectious gastroenteritis reported in nursing homes. This can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.

The spokesman said: “Enhanced information reported on these norovirus outbreaks in nursing homes indicates that 370 people were ill, and that the number of people ill in any one outbreak ranged from five to 77.”

So far this year, there has been one norovirus outbreak associated with a childcare facility.

The virus is easily spread and has become the latest infection to plunge hospitals into high levels of overcrowding.

Up to 665 patients were on trolleys yesterday morning, including 106 in University Hospital Limerick.

Young children and elderly people have been the most affected, with half of cases recorded in those aged over 65, while 28pc have been recorded in children under five.

In the first 10 weeks of 2023 there have been 394 cases of norovirus recorded, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).

This is almost four times the number of cases in the first 10 weeks of 2022, when 109 were recorded.

People have been asked to make themselves aware of the symptoms and to help stop the spread of infection.

Dr Paul McKeown, HPSC consultant in public health medicine, said: “Norovirus is very easily spread between people, but it also lasts for a long time on surfaces.

“If you touch a surface contaminated with norovirus and then touch your mouth, this can make you sick.

“Cleaning your hands with soap and water is the best protection against catching norovirus and it is important to note that alcohol hand gels do not work against the virus.

“People who are ill with norovirus should stay at home and not go to work or school, and they should not visit nursing homes or hospitals until 48 hours after their symptoms have gone.

“Do not visit your GP’s surgery without phoning ahead first. It is often impossible to prevent norovirus. However, taking good hygiene measures around someone who is infected can reduce your chance of getting infected.”

The advice is to frequently wash hands, including before eating or preparing food, as well as after using the bathroom. Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness.

Immediately wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with the virus after an episode of illness.