County health officials discuss Norovirus ‘outbreak’

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 6.16.19 PMThe Richmond County Health Department has received reports from three local pediatricians’ offices of numerous cases of gastroenteritis in children, and many have tested positive for Norovirus infection.

Formerly known as the Norwalk virus, Norovirus is a viral infection which causes approximately 90 percent of non-bacterial outbreaks of gastroenteritis around the world and may be responsible for 50 percent of all food borne outbreaks of gastroenteritis in the U.S.

Norovirus affects people of all ages.

Outbreaks of Norovirus infection often occur in closed or semi-closed communities, such as long-term care facilities, daycare centers, overnight camps, hospitals, prisons, dormitories and cruise ships where the infection spreads very rapidly. The Norovirus can rip its way through crowded quarters like these within a mere 24-hour period.

This highly contagious infection spreads quickly through contact with an infected person. However, it typically strikes a population first via fecal contamination of food or water sources. Many Norovirus outbreaks have been traced to food that was handled by one infected person.

Norovirus symptoms hit those with low immunities, such as infants, seniors and those with underlying illnesses the worst. Noroviruses are highly infectious and a very small number of virus particles may result in symptomatic infections. Both stood and vomit are infectious. The virus is very easily passed from person to person from the time of symptom onset and up to 48 hours after diarrhea or vomiting. The symptoms may appear from 12 to 60 hours after exposure to the virus, but usually occur within 24 to 48 hours.

The common symptoms include:

Nausea and vomiting

The nausea and vomiting associated with Norovirus strikes very suddenly, typically within 12 hours of contamination, and dehydration is common when you’re vomiting for a period of one to three days. Luckily, once the three days are up, patients are usually past the contagious stage.

Fever and chills

A rather high fever, which can reach temperatures of over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, will often accompany Norovirus. Sick individuals often experience waves of night sweats followed by cold chills.

Headaches

Because of the dehydrating effects of Norovirus, patients end up with nasty, painful headaches. This is largely due to being so dehydrated.

Stomach cramps

The gastrointestinal system can become so infected that digesting even light broth or tea causes painful stomach cramps.

Sore muscles

The abdominal muscles can become sore from vomiting and often the infection can cause aching limbs, especially the arms and legs.

Urine changes

Norovirus really robs the body of vital hydration, and lack of water will produce urine that’s dark in color because it’s so concentrated. This will also result in only producing small amounts of urine each day as you replenish your body’s hydration levels.

Dry, parched mouth

Mild dehydration is common during a Norovirus infection, which is why hydration — with water, herbal teas and drinks containing electrolytes — is vital for the very young and the elderly who don’t have strong immune systems.

Ways to stop the spread of Norovirus

* Wash your hands frequently. The single most important thing to prevent infection is frequent hand washing. Do not share items such as towels, utensils, cups or food items. Frequent hand washing is critical because if  you’re turning the door knob, touching things and then you go to east something, you can ingest the virus. Given the variability in reported effectiveness of alcohol-based hand sanitizers in inactivating various norovirus strains, the CDC generally recommends washing with soap and water as the preferred method of hand hygiene.

* Persons currently ill with diarrhea or vomiting should not handle food, work in day care centers or care for patients in a health care facility until at least 48 hours after these symptoms have stopped.

* Norovirus is rapidly inactivated by sufficient heating and by chlorine-based disinfectants, but the virus is less susceptible to alcohols and detergents. The CDC recommends that chlorine bleach solution should b applied to hard, non-porous environmental surfaces.

* Wash laundry thoroughly. Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or fecal matter. Handle soiled items carefully, without agitating them to avoid spreading the virus. Wash items with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dry.

* Clean and disinfect contaminate surfaces, especially after an episode of vomiting or diarrhea, with a solution of bleach and water. Some recommended strengths are:

** 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water for stainless steel, food/mouth contact items and toys

** 1/3 cup bleach per gallon of water for non-porous surfaces such as tile floors, countertops, sinks and toilets

** 1 1/2 cups of bleach per gallon of water for pours surfaces such as wooden floors

The reliability of disinfectants other than those containing chlorine to kill Norovirus is uncertain. Norovirus may remain viable for up to 12 days in carpeting or other environmental surfaces. Therefore, a thorough cleaning of contaminate carpets, curtains and walls is recommended. Dry vacuuming has the potential to recirculate the virus and is not recommended.

 

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