Press Release

Minister Martin welcomes the publication of National Guidelines on the Management of Outbreaks of the Winter Vomiting Bug

The Minister for Health and Children, Mr. Micheál Martin, T.D. has today (Wednesday 17th December, 2003) welcomed the publication by the National Disease Surveillance Centre (NDSC) of “National Guidelines on the Management of Outbreaks of the Norovirus Infection in Healthcare Settings”.

The NDSC was requested by the Minister to draw up a set of national guidelines on the management of outbreaks of Norovirus, more commonly referred to as the “Winter Vomiting Bug”. These guidelines were developed by a multidisciplinary Working Group (Sub-committee of the NDSC Scientific Advisory Committee) representing all professional groups who deal with such outbreaks. The guidelines provide a framework to address the challenge of outbreaks of gastroenteritis in hospitals and other settings caused by noroviruses.

“While it is not possible to completely prevent outbreaks of this resilient virus, it is possible to minimise its effects. The virus is most prevalent during the winter months and the production, by the NDSC, of national guidelines is timely. I wish to thank the NDSC and the Viral Gastroenteritis Subcommittee Members for their work in preparing the national guidelines which, I am sure, will be of great assistance in the management of outbreaks of the virus in healthcare settings” the Minister said.

Dr Paul McKeown, Specialist in Public Health Medicine, NDSC and Chairman of the Viral Gastroenteritis Subcommittee said, “There has been an upsurge of activity of this virus throughout Europe and North America since 2002. In 2002, Ireland had 148 outbreaks caused or suspected as being caused by norovirus, which produced about 7,500 cases of illness. This compares with 63 outbreaks and just over 1,000 cases of illness in 2003. This is fairly typical of what we know about the behaviour of this virus. It comes in waves, producing extensive continent-wide outbreaks every 4 or 5 years”.

Norovirus is the commonest cause of outbreaks of acute gastroenteritis and affects approximately 1% of the population each year. The virus is very resilient and can remain infectious for long periods. Since it is a community infection, outbreaks in hospitals are simply a gauge or reflection of what is happening in the community. Although such outbreaks are not completely preventable, they are controllable. There is growing international evidence that thorough hygienic measures can effectively minimise the impact of this virus. Within hospitals and other healthcare settings, early identification of an outbreak and an early, rapid response is the key to its control.

Currently the intervention that has shown to be most effective at controlling infectious intestinal disease is scrupulous hand washing. Frequent hand washing with warm water and soap for at least 10 seconds is the most effective way of limiting person-to-person spread of infection. The Minister strongly supports the recommendation in the guidelines that there should be a written hand washing policy in all healthcare settings/facilities with an emphasis on the need for staff to wash their hands, particularly after using the toilet, before preparing or eating food and prior to and following all patient and specimen contact.

The National Guidelines are now available on the NDSC web site at www.ndsc.ie