April 25, 2008 in City

300 sick in norovirus outbreak

By The Spokesman-Review

Avoiding the virus

Tips for avoiding norovirus infection or spreading the disease:

“Be diligent about hand washing.

“Stay home from work and away from places where people gather.

“Carefully wash fruits and vegetables.

“Clean up and dispose of vomit and wipes.

“Use a bleach solution for cleaning.

A nasty viral outbreak has sickened 300 residents and employees at seven nursing homes, retirement centers and care facilities in Spokane County.

Norovirus may be best known for turning cruise ships into misery vessels. It is highly contagious and results in a 24- to 48-hour bout of vomiting and diarrhea.

No one has been hospitalized, though the sickness merits close monitoring among the elderly to ensure against dehydration, said Dr. Larry Jecha, acting health officer of the Spokane Regional Health District.

Managers at Riverview Terrace and Riverview Lutheran Care Center, two facilities operated by the same organization, said about three people became ill on a Friday two weeks ago. By the end of the day, when administrators realized a norovirus was present and began quarantining residents and redoubling efforts at hand washing and other sanitation practices, the virus had spread. By Sunday morning there were 56 cases between the two facilities, said Patrick O’Neill, president and chief executive officer of Riverview Retirement Community.

Riverview nursing director Dan DeBoise believes a visitor inadvertently spread the virus.

“It’s ever-present in the community,” he said. “We have to be careful.”

DeBoise believes Riverview is nearing the end of its outbreak after moving quickly to limit further exposure and taking the advice of health district officials.

“It was a real concern for us,” said O’Neill.

It’s the same for Lakeland Village, a state-run facility in Medical Lake for people with developmental disabilities.

Lakeland superintendent Kathy Montague said her staff acted quickly to corral the virus and stop it from widespread infection of the center’s 245 clients.

Norovirus, which causes most cases of gastroenteritis, is among of group of viruses that cause what’s sometimes called “stomach flu,” although it is not related to influenza.

The viruses are found in the vomit or stool of infected people. It’s difficult to contain because the viruses become “aerosolized” after a person vomits, for example, and awaits contact by another person, said Dorothy MacEachern, a health district epidemiologist.

Those infected include 197 residents and 102 staff of the seven facilities that have reported norovirus to the health district. Those facilities include the two Riverview centers; Lakeland Village; Rockwood South Courtyard; Sunshine Gardens; Academy Assisted Living; and North Central Care Center.

The cruise industry has taken exception to its notorious link with the virus. Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, have a vessel sanitation program to fight norovirus and track illnesses on cruise ships.

Schools, restaurants, nursing homes and catered events are other hot spots for norovirus infection.

There is no medication to fight norovirus, nor is there a vaccine to prevent infection.

While the vomiting and diarrhea may last just a couple of days, people can remain contagious for two weeks after they recover, according to the CDC.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email