HEALTH chiefs have closed six wards to visitors at Sandwell General Hospital following an outbreak of the vomiting and sickness bug norovirus. Twenty eight patients have been struck down by the bug, known as winter vomiting virus, in three wards, but visitors have been barred from two entire floors to prevent it spreading. Figures released yesterday reveal 11 patients are suffering from norovirus on the re-habilitation ward, nine on the stroke ward and eight on the trauma ward. Infection control doctor Natasha Ratnaraja said the public were also being urged not to visit either Sandwell or Rowley Regis hospitals if they have had any sickness or diarrhoea symptoms in the last 72 hours. She said this was vital “so that the spread of infection can be prevented and controlled appropriately.” Dr Ratnaraja added: “It is also important that members of the public remember to wash their hands and use the alcohol gel provided when entering and leaving ward and clinical areas. “Washing hands properly not only reduces the risk of spread of infection with norovirus within the wards and clinical areas but also minimises the risk of infection to visitors.” The outbreak comes just three weeks after Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust highlighted high levels of hygiene standards in announcing record low figures for the potentially deadly superbugs MRSA and Clostridium Difficile for the last 12 months. Trust press and public relations manager Vanya Rogers said the six wards on floors three and four at the general hospital would remain closed to visitors until 72 hours after the last patient recovered. “It only takes one person to come to the hospital with the bug for it to spread to patients,” she said, adding: “It is out there in the community and the only way to prevent it spreading is for sufferers to isolate themselves and take precautions about washing hands. They should not go out, not to supermarkets, dentists or anywhere until they are clear of the infection to prevent its spread.” The virus is transmitted by contact with an infected person or through contaminated food or drink or touching contaminated surfaces or objects and is difficult to control because it is spread so easily.