CASES of flu and tummy bugs in the Dorset community appear to be on the rise, health experts have warned.

Hospitals are on high alert over norovirus, which is 63 per cent up across the country compared to the same time last year.

Last month five Dorset care homes reported outbreaks of diarrhoea and vomiting and six schools had an increase in both tummy bugs and flu-like illnesses.

Local levels of norovirus, the most common cause of such symptoms, are difficult to gauge but GP consultation rates for gastroenteritis – a blanket term for tummy bugs – dipped over the Christmas period in Bournemouth and Poole, when surgeries were closed for two days.

During the week before Christmas, consultation rates in Bournemouth and Poole were about half the UK rate. GP consultation rates for flu-like illness were higher than the regional average in the week before Christmas, but lower than the UK’s figure.

Up to the end of November, more than two-thirds of over 65s in Bournemouth, Poole and the rest of Dorset had taken up their free flu vaccine. Rates for under 65s at risk because of health problems were around 45 per cent.

Only 36 per cent of pregnant women in Dorset had been vaccinated and 29 per cent in Bournemouth and Poole.

Following an increase in the number of cases of flu, GPs are urging those eligible for the vaccine to make sure they are protected. Although the illness will usually clear up on its own in healthy people, the effect on older people, pregnant women and people with an underlying health condition can be life-threatening.

GP Dr Chris McCall said: “People need to be aware that the strain of flu virus changes every year, which is why you need to have the vaccine every year. I’d not only encourage those who are eligible to get the jab, but also anyone who is a carer of someone in an at risk group.”

More information on flu along with details of who is eligible for a free vaccination is available from the NHS Bournemouth and Poole and NHS Dorset websites or by contacting your GP.

ACUTE hospitals are asking visitors not to risk spreading tummy bugs among vulnerable patients.

Denise Richards, matron for infection prevention and control at Poole Hospital, said: “The public plays a vital role in keeping infection out of the hospital. We urge visitors to continue to support us by not coming in to the hospital if they, or members of their household, have experienced any diarrhoea or sickness in the last three days.

“If patients are due to come into hospital for a planned procedure, operation or outpatient appointment, but have been unwell with any kind of sickness, it is important they ring the hospital to discuss this before they come in.”