WEARSIDE has been plagued by the winter vomiting bug during the festive season.
The dramatic rise in cases was attributed in part to an early outbreak of the norovirus-caused illness, which closed dozens of hospital wards across Britain.
Sunderland Royal Hospital has experienced very high levels of norovirus infection, with 13 outbreaks during the last 12 weeks, involving several wards with almost 250 patients affected.
A spokesman for the hospital trust said: “Norovirus is endemic in the community and is largely brought into the hospital by patients admitted with the infection, visitors to the hospital and, less commonly, staff.
“Everyone in the hospital involved in patient care is very aware of the need for exemplary hand hygiene in any contact with patients.
“The importance of this cannot be stressed too much to relatives and visitors, whose visiting should be restricted to only that which is essential.
“They should not visit at all of they have any suspicion that they may be harbouring any infection.
“During this period we would also urge that children under 12 do not visit the hospital.”
The peak incidence of norovirus in Sunderland in 2011-12 was between February and March 2012 when there were 80 cases.
The peak more recently has been between October and December, with a threefold increase.
The exact number of Wearsiders affected by the bug, however, can’t be confirmed as most people stay at home to recover.
Writer Andy Dawson, from Barnes, was one of those to be struck down by the illness.
“I’m not sure I’ve had the full-blown thing,” he said. “The worst of it only lasted a day, although it was pretty diabolical.”
Norovirus is very contagious, but Andy, 40, said that he did everything possible not to pass it on to his two children.
“It was almost impossible to keep away from the kids. I made sure we kept our distance and encouraged lots of hand-washing.”
New figures released by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) show that nationally about 100,000 people were affected by the bug during Christmas, up 72 per cent on the previous year.
Laboratory-confirmed incidents of norovirus amounted to 3,877 cases recorded in England and Wales, up from 2,255.
The HPA said that for every reported case an estimated 288 were not flagged up, meaning that about 1.12million people could have contracted the illness.
Cases of norovirus started to increase earlier than expected this winter. Experts have been unable to determine why or predict whether numbers will continue to rise at the same rate.
The bug can be transmitted through contact with an infected person or contaminated surfaces.
Symptoms, which usually last a few days, include sudden vomiting, diarrhoea, or both, a temperature, headache and stomach cramps.