Epsom Hospital has opened a back-up ward and isolated affected patients as it battles a major outbreak of the norovirus.

The number of people now suffering with the winter vomiting virus at the hospital has risen slightly to 31 this afternoon, up from 29 last night.

77 beds out of 243 beds are affected with beds either being used by a patient suffering from the virus or closed because they are within close distance of the infected patient.

The hospital has urged people not to come into the hospital unless absolutely necessary but has stressed that it is still open and that patients will not be turned away or diverted to other hospitals.

No operations have been cancelled as a result of the outbreak.

The hospital confirmed that it has opened Croft Ward, an ‘escalation ward’, which is only opened when it is under severe pressure for beds.

Sufferers have been grouped together in wards in an attempt to contain the spread of the bug and these are subject to regular deep cleaning.

A ‘handful’ of staff are known to be off with the disease and steps have already been taken to prevent staff from moving in between wards to prevent its spread in the hospital.

Staff and visitors are being urged to wash their hands regularly.

A spokesperson said: "In the vast majority of cases Norovirus isn’t a serious illness at all and deaths are almost unheard of but it’s deeply unpleasant and can hinder people recovery.

"You need to eat and drink to recover and if you have diarrhoea and vomiting it slows down the recovery process and might mean you have to stay in hospital longer.

"We have got robust plans in place and we know what we are doing but need local people to help us to get where we need to be to have as few people suffering from it as possible.

"It’s a situation that’s under control and one that we hope will resolve itself."

The symptoms of a norovirus usually start between 24 and 48 hours after the initial infection but can start after as little as 12 hours, say experts.

The first symptom is usually a sudden onset of nausea, followed by projectile vomiting and watery diarrhoea.

Some people may also have a mild fever, headaches, stomach cramps, or aching limbs.

The hospital has warned anyone suffering from diarrhoea or vomiting not to:

• Come to hospital for a routine appointment - instead, call the number on your appointment letter to reschedule it
• Visit patients at Epsom Hospital - you risk spreading the illness to those who do not have it
• Attend A&E (accident and emergency) unless it is a genuine emergency - speak to your GP first if possible.

Have you been affected call the newsdesk on 020 8722 6346 or emaillmay@london.newsquest.co.uk