Schools, hospitals bear the brunt as virus spreads
By Vicki Robinson
Health Reporter
December 15, 2005

THOUSANDS of people have been struck down by a winter sickness bug which is sweeping Leeds.

At the peak of the outbreak, more than 150 beds were closed at city hospitals and some schools have had up to a third of their pupils missing from classes.
The epidemic ñ caused by the Norovirus ñ was so bad at some schools that some have had to cancel large Christmas events and others even considered closing down.

Nursing homes have also been badly affected with many of the city’s elderly being hit. Four hospital wards, two at St James’s and two at Seacroft, remain closed.

Today, health bosses urged people to help stop the spread of the bug by staying away from work, school or hospitals if they showed and symptoms of the illness.

Norovirus, known as winter vomiting disease, causes nausea, stomach pains, fever and severe diarrhea.

It is airborne and can be spread very quickly, particularly through coughing or people not washing their hands after visiting the toilet.

The bug lasts around 48 hours and can be very debilitating. The elderly and young people are most at risk.

Staff from the Leeds Health Protection Agency have visited schools to warn staff to be alert for symptoms and to encourage them to send children home if they show signs of the illness.

Dr Mike Gent, a consultant in communicable disease control, told the YEP: “There is a high absence rate at schools and hospitals have been badly affected.

“And the problem is that it spreads very quickly. And occasionally, we are our own worst enemies. If people are ill they should not go to work. Unfortunately many people struggle in but they are actually doing their colleagues no favours.
“The virus is nasty while it lasts but it does blow over relatively quickly. The main issue is to limit the amount of people affected.”

A spokesman for Leeds City Council said it had issued advice to schools and parents on how to try to stop the spread of the virus.

He added: “The city as a whole is experiencing an increase of viral diarrhoea and vomiting, and this is being reflected in our schools.

“Education Leeds has told all schools of the potential increase, and has issued advice on how to respond to cases and limit the spread of the virus.

“You can also limit the chances of catching or spreading the virus by following basic hygiene standards, like washing your hands regularly and covering your mouth when you cough.”

A spokesman for Leeds hospitals said at the peak of the virus six and a half wards ñ around 156 beds ñ were closed to new admissions in an attempt to isolate those patients who were suffering from Norovirus.

It is the same bug which notoriously swept through the Aurora P&O cruiseliner in 2003, affecting around 500 out of 1,800 passengers who had paid for a £5,000 Mediterranean trip.

Greek authorities refused the ship permission to land for fear of spreading the virus and passengers spent several days trapped at sea.


Getting the bug

ï Noroviruses are the most common cause of gastroenteritis in England and Wales.
ï The bug can be transmitted by contact with an infected person; by consuming contaminated food or water or contact with contaminated objects.
ï The symptoms of infection begin after around 12 to 48 hours and will last for 12 to 60 hours.
ï They start with the onset of nausea followed by projectile vomiting and watery diarrhoea. Some people may have a raised temperature, headaches and aching limbs.
ï Most make a full recovery within two days, however some ñ often the elderly and very young ñ may become dehydrated and need hospital treatment.
ï There is no specific treatment, but it is important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.