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RAF MILDENHALL, England — A winter virus that annually afflicts nearly 1 million people in the United Kingdom has so far only affected a handful of U.S. military members and their families at on-base facilities, Air Force officials said Wednesday.

The norovirus, which the English call "the winter vomiting disease," also affects some 23 million people in the United States every year, said Lt. Col. Mark Pistone, chief of infection control for the 48th Medical Group at RAF Lakenheath. "It’s the most common cause for diarrheal illness."

"But we’ve been very fortunate. It hasn’t impacted us other than on an outpatient basis," he said.

However, a British hospital that also treats patients from nearby U.S. bases had to restrict access to the hospital recently after patients filled nearly a third of the hospital’s wards.

At Addenbrooke’s Hospital — a roughly 1,000-bed university hospital in Cambridge that treats patients from U.S. bases at RAFs Lakenheath, Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth — experts saw its peak of norovirus-afflicted patients last week, a spokesman said.

It was not clear if any of the Addenbrooke’s patients were American or connected to the U.S. forces in England.

Walk-in patients suffering from vomiting and diarrhea essentially were turned away and told to fight the malady from home for two days before returning, hospital spokesman David Williams said Tuesday.

The hospital filled 13 of its 50 wards with norovirus patients, eliminating nonessential contact with visitors and personnel — 30 of whom came down with the highly-contagious bug.

By Monday afternoon, two wards with a total of 45 patients were being treated for norovirus at Addenbrooke’s, Williams said. Updates are posted on the hospital’s Web site at:

Williams said the hospital was not working directly with the U.S. hospital at RAF Lakenheath to treat patients or curb the recent outbreak.

Most common symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. They typically last one to three days.

Patients should seek immediate medical care if they have concerns, are running a high fever, can’t keep any fluids down and are getting dehydrated, or are elderly or young, or with weakened immune systems, Pistone said.

U.S. military hospitals in Rota, Spain, and Naples, Italy, reported no patients being treated for norovirus, officials said.

The virus gained notoriety nearly a year ago after hig-profile outbreaks in the United Kingdom and parts of the United States. Though norovirus generally is not life-threatening to adults, it should be taken seriously because it causes dehydration, which is dangerous for children and the elderly, experts have said.

Short of keeping hydrated with plenty of fluids, there’s not much those suffering from the norovirus can do but wait it out, Williams said. Only after the symptoms persist longer than 48 hours should the sufferer seek medical attention, he said.


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