Is a delayed winter virus causing ‘Manic Monday’ A&E pressures in Suffolk?

Ipswich Hospital

Ipswich Hospital

A flu-like virus was last night linked to record admissions at A&E departments and GP surgeries in Suffolk.

Doctors believe a seasonal virus, typically prevalent earlier in the winter, has only now developed due to a milder start to the year.

It is a “more trying” bug to deal with and has “longer-lasting symptoms”, according to experts.

And they say it has contributed to an unprecedented week for A&E units in the county and a number of GP surgeries who have been dealing with record numbers of patients – as revealed in yesterday’s EADT.

People have been bed-ridden for a week with flu, chesty coughs and severe sore throats. Others have suffered chest pains so painful they have visited A&E fearing they have had a heart attack.

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Medical advice to combat the virus includes resting, drinking plenty of water and taking paracetamols to ease discomfort. But if you become short of breath or start coughing up unpleasant fluids, visit your GP.

It comes after the county’s two main hospitals – Ipswich Hospital and West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds – experienced their busiest-ever days at their emergency wards on ‘Manic Monday’.

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A&E patient numbers soared by up to 25%, forcing Ipswich Hospital chief executive Nick Hulme to push trolleys at one point to help stretched staff.

One Stowmarket GP surgery received 676 calls for help in 12 hours, but health chiefs across the county were left baffled by the sudden surge in emergency activity.

But Dr Christopher Browning, chairman of the NHS West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group and a GP in Long Melford, said a possible cause could be a “more trying” virus with “longer-lasting symptoms” which has hit Suffolk and England recently rather than in January, possibly because of the mild winter.

Dr Browning said: “Viruses mutate and change to something slightly different every year and this one is this year’s issue.

“This virus makes people feel fluey, gives them a horrible sore throat and inflames the windpipe, so breathing can be noisy, and sometimes they get pain in the windpipe.

“The problem is that it lasts for quite some time. It can last for a couple of weeks and the worst part of it can last a whole week.

“It crosses all ages, although the peak influence is in the older working population and the retired.

“But it will certainly be a contributory cause (to the busy A&E wards), while the GPs are also at their busiest. Whether it is the only cause, I don’t think we know yet.

“I have seen several very unwell middle-aged people. Some have had chest pain and been to hospital because it can feel so bad that they wonder if they have had a heart attack.”

It is not known how many people contracted the virus. Dr Browning added: “It is not possible to tell whether the activity has peaked or whether there is yet more to come, therefore at this stage we cannot say when the prevalence will decline.

“If you think you have got the virus, make sure you drink plenty of water, take regular paracetamol to ease your discomfort, and rest until it passes.

“Patients who become very short of breath or start coughing up green stuff should see the doctor.”

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