HEALTH officials have claimed Scots taking extra precautions against the winter vomiting bug have helped to limit its impact on health services.

Health Protection Scotland (HPS) claims increased awareness about spread-ing the norovirus has meant hospitals are experiencing normal activity for the season, despite a large increase in the number of cases in the community.

Figures from HPS last week showed there were a total of 18 wards closed throughout the country – the same number as the same period the previous year and one more than in 2011.

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Cases of the virus in 2012 have risen by 679 (32%) on the five-year average taken between 2007 and 2011.

Evonne Curran, a nurse consultant in infection control for HPS, claimed people taking heed of warnings to avoid hospitals, residential homes and schools if they feel unwell had helped to limit the impact on the NHS.

Ms Curran said: "This is the peak season for norovirus – a couple of weeks either side of Christmas –and there's definitely a lot of it about in the community at the moment.

"But we are not seeing any crisis or meltdown in the NHS. That's definitely not the picture we have of how frontline services are coping.

"At the moment we have norovirus activities in hospitals at the seasonal normal of what we were expecting, considering it's a very bad year.

"There has been an enormous amount of effort put into to getting the message across to people about how important it is to avoid certain places of you feel ill and people seem to have got the message."

The highest number of ward closures was seen in week three of 2010, when 53 wards were forced to close.