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Worst Norovirus outbreak for decades closes Ulster hotel and five hospital wards

By Donna Deeney

Five wards in Altnagelvin hospital in Londonderry remain closed as a result of the worst Norovirus outbreak there in 30 years.

And a luxury border hotel - the Slieve Russell in Co Cavan - has been forced to close its doors due to the winter vomiting bug.

People have been asked to stay away from Altnagelvin hospital if they are experiencing any symptoms of the notorious virus.

Wards used to treat medical and elderly patients in Altnagelvin have been shut to new admissions because of the bug, as well as a ward at the Waterside Hospital.

The North West Trust's Infection Prevention and Control Team is continuing to monitor the situation.

Altnagelvin Medical Director Dermot Hughes said the outbreak is the worst he has ever known at the hospital.

He said: "Increased infection control measures have been put in place such as isolation of symptomatic patients and appropriate use of contact precautions and appropriate use of personal protective clothing, increased and enhanced cleaning and limiting the movement of staff between wards unless absolutely necessary.

"Currently, both patients and staff are suffering which means we have a downturn in staff levels. The major problem is that there is a very high incidence of this condition in the community at present - it's up by 50%.

"To protect our patients and staff, people should not come to the hospital if they are feeling unwell, have any symptoms of Norovirus or someone at home does. People should not come to visit unless absolutely necessary.

"Those who decide to visit loved ones in the hospital are asked to thoroughly wash their hands before and after visiting. Visitors should visit only one patient whilst at the hospital, refrain from sitting on hospital beds and not move from ward to ward when visiting."

The outbreak has added to pressures on Altnagelvin's A&E department which is also preparing for one of its busiest times between Christmas and the New Year. Geraldine McKay, Western Trust Director of Acute Hospitals said: "Pressures on Hospital Services rise as demand increases over the winter period. It has been necessary for the Western Trust to put certain measures in place to ensure those people who have the highest levels of sickness are treated safely and timely.

"The winter pressures plan, is in place to ensure the hospital continues to function over the winter period with the priority of treating those people in greatest need."

Tony Walker, general manager of the Slieve Russell, said: "Some of our guests who visited the hotel, as well as staff, have reported symptoms of this Norovirus. We immediately notified the HSE (Health Service Executive) and the environmental health officers and, with their advice and support, we have taken a number of preventative actions over the past week to reduce any risks relating to this virus at our premises.

"We feel it our responsibility, in conjunction with the HSE, to minimise the possibility of the spread of further infection. It is with deep regret that we have taken the decision to close the hotel. The hotel will reopen as soon as is possible."

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