Norwalk virus hits homes

Patrick Brennan, QMI Agency
Thursday, January 5, 2012 3:35:11 EST PM
ST. THOMAS - The Norwalk virus has struck residents in St. Thomas-Elgin, causing outbreaks at several long-term care homes an official with Elgin-St. Public Health confirmed Wednesday.

Noor Muhammad, manager of the health protection programs division for infectious diseases at Elgin St. Thomas Public Health, said he is aware of outbreaks reported at four long-term care homes in the area.

Muhammad said specific information on where the outbreaks are or who the victims are can't be released because of confidentiality regulations.

Norwalk virus is a gastrointestinal disorder than cause diarrhea, vomiting and nausea.

It is not caused by an influenza virus and is sometimes mistaken referred to as 'stomach flu.'

Muhammad said an outbreak is defined as three or more victims with the disease.

"This is time of the year when the Norwalk virus is common," Muhammad said. "We have a few of our long-term care homes reporting outbreaks."

"Norwalk virus is a very common gastrointestinal virus which causes diarrhea and vomiting," Muhammad said.

The good thing about the virus is that people who are infected with it usually recover within two days, Muhammad said.'

The bad thing, he said, is that Norwalk targets the very young and the elderly, often causing dehydration.

"That's where the problem for the elderly occurs, because they can't take more fluids," Muhammad said. "Young people back it up with fluids and there is no problem of dehydration."

Hand hygiene and cleaning any surfaces in common areas helps control the spread of the disease, Muhammad said.

"It is very contagious and if you take all those preventive measures, that is where you stop the spread of the virus," Muhammad said.

The major reason for declaring an outbreak is to get agencies like Elgin St. Thomas Public Health and the long-term care homes to work together to control the disease through preventive maintenance, Muhammad said,

"Usually, there are no fatalities reported with this," he said.

Teams from long-term care homes work with staff from the communicable disease section of Elgin St. Thomas Public Health to manage information on who has been infected, how they are recovering and steps to control the spread of the virus.

Outbreaks should not affect visiting privileges for friends and families with relatives in long-term care homes, Muhammad said. Visitors may be told they can only visit one person and to avoid any handling any utensils residents have used.

Nurses and anyone else who care for anyone with Norwalk virus need to wear gowns and gloves, depending on how close they get to the person, Muhammad said.

Staff are not surprised at the outbreaks, he said.

"It's not like surprise, surprise."

Influenza and Norwalk virus outbreaks are expected at this time of the year, Muhammad said.