The killer superbug Clostridium Difficile has been identified in a number of patients being cared for by the South Eastern Health & Social Care Trust.
Enhanced hygiene measures have been implemented as health bosses work to keep the C. difficile superbug under control amid growing bed pressures at hospitals across the Trust.
A spokeswoman from the Trust said while there has been no overall increase in the number of C. difficile cases over the past month, a number of C. difficile type 027 cases have been identified recently.
Ribotype 027, a particularly virulent strain of the bug, which usually causes more severe disease, first emerged in Northern Ireland in June 2007.
It was the most common strain identified during the C. difficile outbreak in Northern Health & Social Care Trust facilities between June 2007 and August 2008, which played a part in the deaths of 31 patients.
The Trust spokeswoman said: "Over recent months there has been a 5% increase in patients attending the emergency department compared to the same period last year, and a 9% increase in emergency hospital admissions which has placed considerable pressure on our hospitals.
"This has resulted in some patients, on occasions, experiencing a delay in admission to a bed in a hospital ward. The Trust has been working with the Health & Social Care Board and the Public Health Agency (PHA) to address these issues.
"Due to the increased incidences of vomiting and diarrhoea being reported across the South Eastern Trust area, four wards have been closed to new admissions in the Ulster Hospital and a restriction on visiting in affected areas has been put in place."
The Trust later said it had re-opened three wards, and urged members of the public to avoid visiting if they were suffering any vomiting, diarrhoea, cold or flu symptoms.
The spokeswoman continued: "The Trust, in conjunction with the PHA, is currently reviewing a small number of cases of C. difficile identified within the South Eastern Trust area - these include both hospital and community cases.
"As a result of these incidences, enhanced cleaning measures have been initiated, with careful assessment of patients in affected areas and those attending our A&E departments."
Anyone suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea, cold or flu symptoms has been asked not to visit patients across the Trust to minimise the risk of infection.
Factfile: advice for visitors
The Trust has asked all visitors to:
- Check with the nurse in charge before visiting to ensure that any precautions that may be in place are followed.
- Clean hands before and after visiting the area.
- Limit the number of visitors to a maximum of two per bed at any one time (cultural preferences and requirements will be taken into consideration when agreeing visiting arrangements for families and carers).
- Ensure that children visiting are supervised by an adult. Babies and young children should not visit.