NORTH Middlesex hospital has closed one ward to stem an outbreak of the winter vomiting bug.

Thirteen suspected cases of norovirus have been identified at the hospital since January 9. Last year the hospital had only one confirmed case.

The bug, thought to affect one million people a year in the UK, is highly contagious, causing unpleasant symptoms like vomiting, fever, stomach cramps and diarrhoea.

In neighbouring Barnet Hospital, five wards have closed since December to contain about 40 cases of the norovirus.

A spokeswoman at North Middlesex Hospital, in Sterling Way, Upper Edmonton, said it was impossible to say whether anybody had died due to winter sickness this year.

She stressed that so far the norovirus has been contained on one ward.

She added: “As a result of its prevalence in the local community, the North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust was on full alert and has declared an outbreak of suspected norovirus which is currently contained on one ward.

“Staff work to the infection control policy to ensure that infection control procedures are strictly adhered to, which has helped limit the number of other cases .”

According the NHS, the norovirus spreads easily from person to person, through contact with someone sick or surfaces and objects that may harbour the virus.

Louise Ashley, Director of Nursing at Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “It is important to be vigilant and good hygiene is essential in preventing yourself or others from picking up the infection.

“Hand washing with soap and water is especially important, after using the toilet and before eating.

“After an episode of illness any contaminated surface should be thoroughly disinfected.

“A person who has been ill should avoid food preparation until at least two days after symptoms disappear.”

There is no treatment for norovirus apart from letting the illness run its course. However fluids ward off dehydration especially in the very young or elderly.

To prevent passing on norovirus to others, those infected should stay away from work or school for two days after symptoms have ceased.

“It is particularly important to stay away from environments such as hospitals or schools,” Ms Ashley added. “You can help us to keep this bug out of our hospitals by treating yourself at home instead of coming into hospital and by avoiding visiting our patients if you are feeling unwell.”