The NHS is well prepared for the winter. No A&Es have had to close so far this winter and we are providing additional funding to the NHS to help it cope with the added pressure that the winter brings.
Flu and norovirus are typical at this time of year - that's why we are running the 'Catch It. Bin It. Kill It' campaign to remind people that one of the best ways to stop the spread of winter bugs is to Catch It, Bin It and Kill It when you cough or sneeze and wash your hands regularly.
Our weekly published figures show the number of beds closed across the NHS due to norovirus symptoms is around 2.4%. This compares to 2.9% of beds that were closed during the peak of norovirus cases last winter.
Over 100,000 people were struck down with the winter vomiting bug over Christmas.
For every reported case of norovirus in England Wales, an estimated 288 were not flagged up, meaning around 1.12 million could have contracted the illness around Christmas, according to the Health Protection Agency.
This is roughly 100,000 more than the pre-Christmas period - until December 23 - when 1.01 million people were thought to have been struck by the bug.
Latest figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) show there has been a 72% increase in the number of cases reported at the same point last year.
The HPA have seen 3,877 laboratory confirmed cases of norovirus this season (from week 27 to week 51 2012).
Cases of norovirus have risen earlier than expected this winter season and this is a trend that has been seen across Europe and other parts of the world. It has not yet been determined why this has been the case and activity varies significantly from year to year.
During the two weeks up to 30 December there were 29 hospital outbreaks reported, compared to 70 in the previous fortnight, bringing the total of outbreaks for the season to 590
John Harris, an expert in norovirus from the HPA said:
As we have seen in previous years there has been a dip in the number of confirmed laboratory reports owing to the Christmas and New Year period. However, in line with other norovirus seasons we will expect to see an increase in the number of laboratory reports in the next few weeks.
Norovirus is very contagious, and anyone who has had it knows it is very unpleasant. If you think you may have the illness then it is important to maintain good hand hygiene to help prevent it spreading. We also advise that people stay away from hospitals, schools and care homes as these environments are particularly prone to outbreaks.
The Norovirus bug, which has affected almost one million people in England and Wales, is highly contagious and can be transmitted through contact with an infected person or contaminated surfaces and objects.
It is known to spread rapidly in closed environments such as hospitals, schools and nursing homes.
Although people can suffer from norovirus at any time of the year, activity increases in the winter months, with most cases seen between January and March.
The number of laboratory confirmed cases has risen once again as it appears that we have seen the rise in cases that usually begins in January start a little earlier than we normally expect.
Norovirus is very contagious, and very unpleasant. To help prevent spread of the disease, it's important that people who believe they are unwell with the virus maintain good hand hygiene and stay away from hospitals, schools and care homes, as these closed environments are particularly prone to outbreaks which can cause severe disruption.
– John Harris, Heath Protection Agency Norovirus expert
East Surrey Hospital is closed to visitors for the safety of its patients. To keep the hospital beds open and ready for seriously ill people, all visitors are being asked to stay away.Paul Simpson, Deputy Chief Executive of the healthcare Trust that manages the hospital said:
“No visitors are currently allowed onto the wards. This a decision that is not taken lightly, but is necessary to help control the spread of norovirus. After opening visiting again on Christmas Eve, we have patients in five wards affected by norovirus....we have to stop visiting altogether."
He added "We will be reviewing the situation daily, and we advise people to check our website or call our switchboard on 01737 768511 to hear the latest information about visiting restrictions.”