U.K. says number of norovirus cases declining

The U.K. Health Protection Agency recently announced a 32 percent drop in the number of confirmed cases of norovirus in the country in the first week of 2013.

The HPA said that the figure, down from 257 to 175, is a continuation of a downward trend in the number of cases. The agency, however, said that the difference in case rate in comparison to last year at the same time - 4,407 in week one of 2013 to 2,828 in week one of 2012 - shows how the severity of the norovirus season remains unpredictable. New cases of infection are expected to continue before the end of the season.

In the first two weeks of 2013, hospitals reported 39 outbreaks in comparison to 33 during the same period last year. The total number of outbreaks reported during the entire season reached 728.

The HPA said that a new strain of norovirus, Sydney 2012, has been circulating throughout the country. It was detected by surveillance mechanisms earlier in the year, but it was not the dominant strain at the time. It has since overtaken the other strains, which may explain the early start of the season.

"Norovirus activity always varies from year to year and although we might have expected cases to rise again now we have passed the New Year period this hasn't been the case," HPA norovirus expert John Harris said. "We can't read anything into this fall and don't know how busy the rest of the season will be. The busiest months are normally from December to April, so further cases will occur but we can't say if there will be further significant increases in the number of laboratory reports.

"There have been reports in the media of people with symptoms of norovirus attending their local hospital but we would urge people not to do this. If you think you may have the illness then it is important to stay away from any healthcare facility and care homes to avoid spreading it to people who may have underlying health conditions and already be vulnerable. If you need advice it is best to phone NHS Direct or your doctor."

Norovirus can be transmitted through immediate contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, contact with the infected, or by consuming contaminated food or water.