Almost 2,000 Britons have been struck down by an outbreak of the norovirus winter vomiting bug, with official data showing a 52 percent rise on last year.

There have been 53 outbreaks of the highly contagious virus at NHS trusts across the country, with 45 hospitals forced to close off wards over the last two weeks as they disinfect the area.

Warwick Hospital in Warwickshire has banned visiting to six wards following an outbreak of the bug.

Microbiologist Professor Hugh Pennington, based at the University of Aberdeen, told Tuesday's edition of the Mail: "This year it seems to have taken off earlier than in previous years.

"No-one can predict what it?s going to do except that we are going to have a reasonably hard time of it, I am sure. It would be grossly optimistic to suggest otherwise."

There have been 1,975 confirmed cases since July, 674 more than the same period last year, although the true number is likely to be much higher as most sufferers do not report to their doctors.