Could the 'vomit bug' be caused by germ warfare

01:00 Fri 22nd Feb 2002 |

asks Jayne b-t:
It highly unlikely. The 'winter vomiting' bug, which was first noted at Glasgow's Victoria Infirmary on January 9, has infected 254 patients and staff. And now 17 patients and eight staff at Birmingham's Heartlands Hospital have contracted the condition.

However, this is a common 'bug' that affects up to one per cent of the UK population each year, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Health.

Also, it wouldn't be very effective as germ warfare because it's rarely fatal.

Q. How dangerous is it
The infection, which causes vomiting and diarrhoea, usually only lasts 48 hours. However, it can be more serious if caught by someone who is already ill, or is or suffering from a depressed immune system - which covers most people in hospital.

Q. Don't thousands of people die from things they catch in hospital
Yes. Dr Andrew Walker, of Glasgow University's Robertson Centre for Biostatistics, estimates that so-called hospital-acquired infections cause or contribute to more than 1,800 deaths in Scottish hospitals each year. That's more than deaths caused by road accidents, Aids and drugs combined.

Q. And what about the ones who don't die from their hospital-acquired infection
About 20% of hospital patients catch something, which means they have to stay in hospital longer to recover - an average of 11 days. This, of course, is an extra burden on the NHS as such patients cost about �300,000 each.

Q. What can be done
It make more sense all round to spend money on improved resources. Experts reckon that providing infection-control nurses and improved hand-washing facilities would reduces the infections by a third.

The Victoria Infirmary was criticised by journalists of being dirty and littered with soiled bedlinen. The hospital insisted that that standards were of a professional standard. However, Scottish health minister Malcolm Chisolm has ordered a hygiene inspection to be carried out at every Scottish hospital.

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