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Care home campaign aims to reduce spread of Norovirus

Friday, 11 July, 2014
Care home campaign aims to reduce spread of Norovirus

Community staff at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust are visiting over 150 nursing and residential homes across Northumberland and North Tyneside to educate staff, residents and most importantly, visitors, on how to reduce the spread of winter bugs. 

As part of International Infection Prevention Week 2012 (14 – 20 October), the Trust’s Community Infection Control Team are visiting each and every care home from Berwick to North Tyneside and across to Haltwhistle and Hexham in the West, raising awareness of Norovirus – known as ‘winter vomiting virus’ and the importance of good hand hygiene in reducing the spread. 

Norovirus is a very common and unpleasant gastrointestinal virus which causes diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal cramps with cases traditionally going up during the winter months.

Although Norovirus is a self limiting disease usually lasting 24-72 hours and is rarely serious, even in the elderly or the very young, it is highly infectious and spreads rapidly in care homes and hospitals during winter.

The key message of the care home campaign will be aimed at those visiting loved ones to follow the ‘48 hour rule’. Susan Besbrode, Infection Prevention and Control Practitioner at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation trust, explains:

“It is vital that anyone who is feeling unwell themselves and has symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhoea, does not visit their loved one in a care home, until they have been symptom free for at least 48 hours. This is because you can still be infectious up to 48 hours after your symptoms have stopped.

“The same goes for anyone visiting family or friends in hospital or attending their GP practice – they should wait until their symptoms have gone to help reduce the risk of spreading the infection to patients and staff.”

The importance of good hand hygiene is being strongly emphasised on Global Handwashing Day (15 October) with infection control staff from Northumbria Healthcare holding roadshows in the main reception areas at Hexham, North Tyneside and Wansbeck general hospitals to encourage all staff, patients and visitors to scrub up well.

Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water is the single most important thing people can do to help to reduce the spread of infections like Norovirus and should be always be done as a matter of routine: 

  • Before eating or handling food
  • After using the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After touching animals or animal waste
  • After handling rubbish
  • After changing a nappy
  • Before and after touching an unwell or injured person
  • Before and after visiting a care home or hospital ward

It is especially important that people wash their hands with soap and water thoroughly after contact with someone who is suffering from winter vomiting virus. People who are ill themselves and suffering from sickness and diarrhoea should also wash their hands regularly and thoroughly. 

Susan added: “We know that winter bugs like Norovirus spread very quickly in the community and in care homes which is why we’re taking this proactive approach to educate people as much as possible on preventative measures before the winter sets in.

“Elderly residents in nursing and care homes are some of our most vulnerable patients and the spread of Norovirus can often result in unnecessary hospital admissions and lengthened stays, not to mention care home and ward closures as we try to reduce the spread of infection. It can also result in staff shortages due to sickness as our teams are often infected at work. 

“Anything we can do to educate the public on good hand washing and reducing the spread by following a simple 48 hour rule is vital, as we approach the busy winter months. By taking some simple preventative measures we can all play our part in helping to protect the more vulnerable elderly members of society.”

Dr Kirsty Foster, from the Health Protection Agency in the North East, added: “Recent research suggests that nationally around two million cases of Norovirus occur in the community each year. It spreads rapidly in semi-closed communities such as care homes which is why it’s so important that people who’ve had the virus don’t visit elderly relatives until they’ve been free of symptoms for 48 hours.”

Anyone who is suffering from Norovirus symptoms such as sickness and diarrhoea can be best treated by staying at home, drinking plenty of fluids and getting some rest while the virus runs it course.

Advice is always available online from NHS Choices www.nhs.uk and from NHS Direct online at www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/CheckSymptoms or by calling 0845 46 47.

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