Official figures indicate that the number of Britons being struck down by the winter vomiting bug is 40 per cent higher than this time last year.
There have already been nearly 1,500 confirmed cases of the novovirus since July.
Public Health England figures indicate that there were 22 outbreaks of the virus in hospitals just last week, which compares extremely unfavourably to just two during the same period last year.
These outbreaks refer to wards or sections of wards being shut off to contain the virus, and such problems can indeed be massively disruptive for hospitals.
It is believed that the novovirus could reach epidemic proportions over the Christmas period.
Norovirus, sometimes known as winter vomiting bug in the UK, is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in humans.
Hospitals affected included the Weston General in Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset, which last week was forced to close three wards.
Yet Public Health England defended the figures, stating that they are roughly commensurate with what would be expected for the time of the year.
The healthcare bodies suggested that levels of the virus were in fact rather low during the previous 12-month period, and this explains the disparity.
Cases of the novovirus were particularly high in 2012, and during the worst weeks one-third of all hospitals had closed wards.
The Infection Prevention Society – which works with hospitals to reduce the spread of bugs – warned that the NHS was facing a ‘Christmas norovirus epidemic’
But Nick Phinn, National Infection Service Deputy Director at Public Health England does not agree with this verdict.
“Levels of norovirus this year are in line with what we’d normally expect, just 6 per cent up on average. Comparison against last year is misleading because recorded cases were low. Also, it’s impossible to predict whether we might see a high number of cases over Christmas because they vary so much week to week”.
The novovirus is transmitted by fecally contaminated food or water, by person-to-person contact, and via aerosolization of vomited virus and subsequent contamination of surfaces.
It affects around 267 million people annually, and causes over 200,000 deaths each year; these deaths are usually in less developed countries and in the very young, elderly and immunosuppressed.