Winter bugs like flu and norovirus must be taken seriously, warns NHS

  • NHS staff pulling out all the stops as flu and norovirus circulate
  • Flu and norovirus major contributing factor to winter NHS pressure
  • Warning to heed norovirus advice and get the free flu jab if eligible

As the first real cold snap of the winter season hits the North East and North Cumbria, the NHS is warning of the impact of norovirus and the flu.

The latest Public Health England data shows that in the two weeks to 20 January 2019 there were 12 recorded outbreaks of norovirus in hospitals in England, 11 of which led to ward/bay closures or restrictions to admissions – one of which was in the North East.

This season (since week 27 2018), there have been 128 outbreaks of norovirus reported causing 123 ward/bay closures across England.

Certain infections are more common during the winter, particularly influenza and norovirus. This is due to a combination of factors, but includes factors to do with the bugs themselves, and the fact that they may spread more easily when we spend more time together indoors. Flu and complications associated with it cause 8,000 deaths on average a year in England.[1] Around 6,000 of these are people with heart and lung disease.

The statistics show that over the last week, seasonal flu continues to circulate across the UK, with early signs that activity is starting to peak.

With flu continuing to circulate in the region at medium intensity, at higher levels than in the South of the country, health bosses are advising there’s still time to get the flu vaccine and urging all those who are eligible to make sure they get it sooner rather than later. The vaccine is the best defence against flu, which can be serious for people with weakened immune systems.

NHS England’s Medical Director for Cumbria and the North East, Professor Chris Gray, said: “The indications suggest that the strains of flu circulating are well matched to those in this season’s flu vaccines, so if you know anyone who is at risk from flu, please encourage them to get protected.

“NHS staff continue to pull out all the stops with flu and norovirus cases continuing to rise as expected in January. Thanks to closer working between hospitals, local health groups and councils, fewer people are spending long periods in hospital compared with this time last year.

“With temperatures set to stay low, it’s more important than ever that people help doctors, nurses, paramedics and other frontline staff provide care to the most seriously ill, by getting the free flu jab if you’re eligible. You can get this through your local pharmacist or GP.”

Flu advice

Flu is very infectious and easily spread to other people. You’re more likely to give it to others in the first 5 days. Flu is spread by germs from coughs and sneezes, which can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.

If you do have flu-like symptoms:

  • Care for yourself at home – for most people, flu will be a mild illness that cannot be treated by your GP or other healthcare professional.
  • Rest, sleep, keep warm, take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and treat aches and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
  • If you have a long-term condition that means you’re at greater risk of the complications of flu, you may need to seek advice from your GP.
  • Use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze.
  • Bin used tissues as quickly as possible.
  • Wash your hands often with warm water and soap.
  • Avoid visiting relatives in hospital until your symptoms clear.

Norovirus advice

  • You can usually treat yourself or your child at home. You should start to feel better in a day or two.
  • Stay at home and get plenty of rest.
  • Drink lots of fluids, such as water and squash – take small sips if you feel sick
  • Eat when you feel able to – you don’t need to have or avoid any specific foods.
  • Take paracetamol if you’re in discomfort – check the leaflet before giving them to your child.
  • Avoid visiting relatives in hospital until your symptoms have stopped for two days.
  • Visiting your GP surgery with norovirus can put others at risk, so it’s best to call your GP or NHS 111 if you’re concerned and need advice.

For more health advice this winter, please visit