Party city blamed for hospitals’ norovirus hotspot

The norovirus bug is often brought in to hospitals from outside. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The norovirus bug is often brought in to hospitals from outside. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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LOTHIAN hospital wards have been hit hardest by the norovirus vomiting bug this winter, and health professionals claim the city’s reputation as a party Mecca could be to blame.

Figures published by Health Protection Scotland, which takes a “snapshot” of norovirus cases every Monday, reveal that almost 70 per cent of hospital patients hit by the bug over December are from the region, which is home to just 15 per cent of the national population.

And it is believed the city’s “large mobile population” and Hogmanay – with its glut of international visitors – could be partially to blame.

Experts said the influx of visitors and shopping crowds over the Christmas period may have contributed to the disproportionately high number of cases.

Dr Evonne Curran, a nurse consultant in infection control with Health Protection Scotland, said: “There’s probably something in the fact that it has a large mobile population and that may well affect the community. If there’s more norovirus in the community, it’s more likely hospitals become affected.”

The latest figures, published this week, showed that three of the four Scottish hospitals with wards closed due to norovirus on Monday – the Royal Infirmary, Royal Edinburgh Hospital and Liberton Hospital – were NHS Lothian facilities.

On Monday, nearly 90 per cent of the Scottish hospital patients who were hit by the bug had stayed in the five closed Lothian wards, with one area of a hospital in the Aberdeen area – with just three affected patients – the only other reporting an issue in Scotland.

Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack described the figures as “striking”. She said: “It’s disturbing that NHS Lothian appears to be performing poorly compared with the rest of Scotland. Over half the wards affected are in Lothian.

“We need to find out why there’s a greater prevalence of this virus in Lothian given its impact on people’s health and the knock-on effect on patient treatment when wards have to be closed.”

While Lothian is the worst-affected region, norovirus cases are down overall this year, after an unprecedented outbreak caused chaos last winter. And the picture in Lothian has improved since Monday, with three wards across two sites – the Royal Edinburgh and Liberton – affected yesterday.

Dr Curran said the drop may be a result of high-profile campaigns getting through to the public. The highly contagious bug is often brought in to hospitals from outside, with messages including advising those with symptoms not to visit hospitals for 48 hours after they recover and to wash their hands regularly. She said: “Lothian is a big area, and they’re almost having more like a normal year.”

Professor Alison McCallum, NHS Lothian’s director of public health and health policy, said strict measures were in place to prevent the spread of the bug and contain outbreaks when they did occur.

We told in September how hospital spot checks revealed poor hand hygiene. The findings prompted warnings there could be a winter norovirus explosion.

daniel.sanderson@edinburghnews.com