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Winter vomiting bug sweeps UK

LONDON (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of people have been struck down by a highly infectious stomach bug that swept the United Kingdom during the holiday period, doctors said on Thursday.

The norovirus structure in an undated image. Hundreds of thousands of people have been struck down by a highly infectious stomach bug that swept the country during the holiday period, doctors said on Thursday. REUTERS/B.V. Prasad/Health Protection Agency/Handout

The Royal College of General Practitioners, which represents 27,000 family doctors, estimates that 100,000 people a week caught the norovirus bug, which causes vomiting and diarrhea.

“GPs are seeing a huge number of cases of patients with the norovirus,” said its chairman Professor Steve Field. “Our advice for those affected is to stay at home, take paracetamol and drink plenty of fluids.”

The UK’s Health Protection Agency, the body that monitors infectious diseases, said the number of cases reported in early winter was the highest since 2002 and double the total this time last year.

The virus is most common in colder months and is also known as the winter vomiting bug. Outbreaks are often reported in places like hospitals, schools and cruise ships.

People who catch the bug are violently sick and may get a mild fever, aching limbs, headaches and cramps. The illness lasts between 12 and 60 hours.

Good hygiene can help stop it from spreading. People are advised to wash their hands well and avoid contact with others.

National Health Service Direct’s Chief Operating Officer Dr. Mike Sadler said his telephone advice service had been flooded with calls about vomiting and abdominal pain.

More than 1.1 million people contacted NHS Direct during 11 days over Christmas, a 61 percent rise from the same period last year.

The HPA Web site has information about the bug:

www.hpa.org.uk/infections/topics_az/norovirus/faq.htm

Editing by Steve Addison

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