SEVERAL wards at Croydon University Hospital were plunged into lockdown after an outbreak of norovirus during the festive period.
Three wards had to be shut completely while a further four of the hospital's 26 wards were partially closed as 19 patients caught the highly contagious bug during its "current wave".
In addition to the seven wards, of which a number were not fully reopened until Monday, 28 staff also reported symptoms and several patient visits were suspended due to the outbreaks.
Neighbouring hospitals used by Croydon residents, although not escaping unscathed, were not so severely affected.
St Helier Hospital, in Sutton, has seen two outbreaks this winter, leading to one ward being closed, while St George's in Tooting - with nearly double the number of beds of Croydon University Hospital - was not forced to close any wards.
A Croydon University Hospital spokesman said: "In common with other hospitals, nursing homes, schools and many other places where people come together in large numbers, Croydon University Hospital has had its share of cases of norovirus this winter.
"The current wave began on one ward during the first week in December.
"Norovirus is exceptionally infectious and passes easily from one person to the next so we also ask friends and relatives not to visit patients on wards when they are affected with the virus."
The spokesman added that people who suspect they have the virus should remain at home, drink plenty of water and take paracetamol to help ease the symptoms.
News of the outbreaks come as the Environment Agency published figures on Wednesday showing cases of the potentially lethal bug are up 72 per cent in hospitals across the country compared to the same time last year.
Dr John Clark, the lead doctor for the NHS trust which runs St Helier Hospital, said: "While we haven't seen an increased number of cases of norovirus at our hospitals, we have to do all that we can to protect our patients and their loved ones from this unpleasant illness. That's why we're asking local people to only come into hospital if they need to.
"While we understand that people will want to visit their loved ones and relatives, we have to put these controls in place to help stop the spread of norovirus."
According to the latest Health Protection Agency figures, there have been 3,877 confirmed cases of norovirus in England and Wales so far this winter, compared with 2,255 cases in 2011.
The symptoms of norovirus usually start between 24 to 48 hours after initial infection, although they can start after as little as 12 hours.
The first symptom is usually a sudden onset of nausea, which is followed by projectile vomiting and watery diarrhoea.
Some people may also have a mild fever, headaches, stomach cramps or aching limbs.
Potential sufferers can call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 for advice.