A winter vomiting bug has closed three wards at James Cook University Hospital in the worst norovirus outbreak for four to five years.

A medical chief has spoken of the pressure on the Middlesbrough hospital’s NHS trust from the outbreak.

Meanwhile, a lead nurse has urged those with symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhoea, not to go to hospital as it could spread the virus further, and people have been advised to prevent the spread by frequently washing hands and cleaning surfaces.

Dr Mike Stewart, chief medical officer for the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We’ve spent the last few days managing the first norovirus, or winter vomiting virus, outbreak in the organisation. And it’s the biggest outbreak we’ve had in probably the last four or five years.

“The one good thing about Covid was everybody’s really strict attention to hygiene had benefits in terms of reducing risk of other infections. We’ve currently got three wards closed due to a norovirus, which is adding to the pressures.

“There’s outbreaks of norovirus in communities and hospitals across England,” he told a board of directors’ meeting on Wednesday (December 6).

Jo Carter, lead nurse for infection prevention and control at the trust, later said: “Norovirus, often known as the winter vomiting bug, causes diarrhoea and/or vomiting and is highly contagious. It is transmitted via direct contact with faeces, contaminated surfaces or aerosols from vomit.

“Norovirus cases in the community are currently high. Strict infection control precautions and enhanced cleaning are in place at our hospitals to prevent further transmission.

"If you have any symptoms of diarrhoea or vomiting, please do not visit the hospital as this increases the risk of transmission to our patients and staff.

“Clinical staff can provide you with a brief update over the phone on the wellbeing of your relative and advise as to when you can safely visit.

Most read:

Get all the best local stories from The Northern Echo for just £3 for 3 months in our new sale. Click here for more info.

"Everyone can help prevent norovirus from spreading by washing hands often with soap and water, avoiding contact with people who have a known norovirus infection and frequently cleaning surfaces at home when a household member has norovirus.”

Samuel Peate, the trust’s chief operating officer, told the meeting there had been a 10% increase in inpatient admissions and attendance at the emergency department over the last eight weeks.

However, he said waiting lists for referral to treatment had reduced for the first time in 18 months, the number of patients receiving diagnostic tests within six weeks had “increased significantly” and numbers waiting more than 62 days for cancer treatment was significantly reducing.