A winter vomiting bug is piling on pressure at Lothian hospitals as NHS bosses issued a warning to visitors over soaring numbers of cases.
Four wards are currently closed and eight are partially closed due to a norovirus outbreak at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, the Western General Hospital, the Sick Kids Hospital and St John’s Hospital, in Livingston.
The highly contagious bug tends to occur most during the winter months but health chiefs are concerned that the virus is affecting an unusually high number of patients for the time of year.
Figures from Health Protection Scotland show 34 people were struck down by the bug this week in Lothian hospitals, making it the worst affected region in Scotland.
Norovirus causes nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting, and it can be serious in elderly or very young patients as they are more likely to become dehydrated.
Fiona Cameron, head of infection, prevention and control at NHS Lothian, said a number of wards have been affected and that individual rooms and bases across hospitals in the area have been temporarily closed and re-opened as a result of the virus.
She said: “We’ve seen a higher than normal number of cases than we would expect at this time of year and it is having an impact on services. Bases and rooms have been closed to allow extensive deep cleans before they can safely be re-opened to other patients.
“The virus is extremely unpleasant and is highly contagious and so can spread quickly and easily. It can also cause complications for patients who are already acutely unwell.
Visitors are being urged to take extra precautions to avoid bringing the virus into wards by washing their hands frequently and using alcohol hand gel in ward to prevent the spread of infection.
Strict infection control procedures are also in place to prevent staff passing on the bug.
Ms Cameron added: “A person can remain contagious for up to 48 hours after their symptoms stop and so even though they may feel better, they may still be carrying the bug and passing it on to others. We are urging everyone to be sensible with basic precautions and help others stay well.”
NHS Lothian brought special hand-washing machines earlier this year to help staff to improve their hand hygiene.