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Vice President of Community Health and Medical Director, LRHS Physicians Group
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Friday, February 1 2013

Norovirus Outbreaks: What is this Virus and How Can you Protect Yourself?

WashingHands

It can hit hard and fast, then spread to those closest to you.

It is not the flu, but rather a virus that causes fever, vomiting and explosive diarrhea (known by doctors as Gastroenteritis*).

Most doctors try to avoid calling it the “stomach-flu” since this germ is very different than the flu germ influenza.

This germ is called “norovirus,” and you may have heard of it when it struck a few cruise ships.

Fortunately, for most, it only lasts a few days but it can still wipe you out. If you are elderly or have a chronic medical condition, you could lose too much fluids and become dehydrated.

After having diarrhea, if a person does not wash their hands, they can carry trillions of these germs on their finger tips (it can go right through soiled toilet paper).

If you touch something that was previously touched by a sick person’s unwashed hands, then you could get sick if you bite your nails or prepare food.

It is not surprising to see small outbreaks at home, in daycare centers, schools, offices, and even nursing homes.

This germ is tough. It can rest on commonly touched surfaces and is strong enough to get through the acid of your stomach.

There is no vaccine or treatment except for rest and fluids. If a person is dizzy, not urinating, and/or not making tears, then a doctor should be called due to potential dehydration. It can be very hard on the elderly who may not be able to swallow needed daily medications because of the vomiting.

There is a new strain of norovirus called “GII.4 Sydney” that was discovered in Australia, but is causing outbreaks in the United States and throughout the world. There are no known outbreaks in Polk, but health officials are carefully monitoring for this, and our emergency department has been alerted to look for possible cases. This strain seems to cause more hospitalizations and serious illness. Some deaths have been reported, and more information is being gathered to better understand this germ.

So, what can you do?

  • Be very careful when you are close to someone who is vomiting and has diarrhea. A sick person should wait 2 – 3 days after recovering before preparing food.
  • Keep sick infants out of areas where food is being handled, prepared, or served.
  • The germ shows up on commonly touched surfaces at home and work.
  • Disinfect surfaces with a bleach-containing cleaner (follow the directions on the label).
  • Keep your fingers out of your mouth and wash them before handling food.
  • Buckets of ice used to chill canned drinks can spread this germ as a sick person could reach into the ice water to grab a drink.
  • Immediately remove and wash all bed sheets and clothes that are dirty with vomit or diarrhea.

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 * Gastroenteritis broken down:

Gastro… = stomach

…enter… = intestines (bowels or “guts”)

…itis = inflammation or irritation

 So putting it all together, a person suffering from viral gastroenteritis has a germ that is irritating their stomach and intestines. So it is expected that the patient would complain of fever, belly pain, vomiting, and diarrhea – usually in that order.

2 Comments

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Daniel Haight
Feb 12, 5:51 PM

Good question.

The nature of this illness makes it nearly impossible to work.

But if anyone is experiencing symptoms of vomiting and frequent bathroom breaks for diarrhea, they should not be at work and, instead, seeking medical advice. This illness is often associated with fever; another reason to stay home.

Return to work is usually advisable 48 hours after the diarrhea has stopped with an emphasis to wash hand carefully and frequently.

In settings such as offices, schools and home where hand hygiene is less emphasized, commonly touched surfaces can be a major problem.

Fortunately, there is more handwashing emphasis in healthcare facilities. However, cleaning computer keyboards is best done with bleach wipes. There will be more information regarding BMW cleaning released soon to LRMC staff.

If we have a known case at any particular worksite, then there would be special emphasis on environmental cleaning similar to what nursing homes and cruise ships go through when they have outbreaks.

Natalie Pope
Feb 11, 11:00 AM

If an employee is affected should they be sent home and how long should they stay there? If they are computer users, how would we disinfect the keyboard to prevent the someone on the next shift getting exposed? They make washable keyboards – would that be something to consider for the Medselect machines?

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