As manager of the Communicable Disease Control Program at Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department I was sorry to hear of you reader’s illness and disappointed to hear of their difficulty in contacting our agency. If it is possible, I would like to contact him personally to learn more so that we can improve our system to better respond to the needs of the community. Can you provide any contact information or refer him to me? We work hard to make sure an appropriate public health response can be accessed at any time and while it should always be stressed that individuals experiencing illness should seek advice from their medical provider, I want to make sure we don’t lose any opportunity to meet the prevention needs of our community.
By way of background, we have recently been receiving many reports from our community suggesting significant gastrointestinal illness in our community. Communication with our colleagues in other counties and the state suggest that this is occurring state and nationwide. Analysis of the data suggest that this is largely caused by noroviruses. These viruses are very common at this time of year, although this appears to be a particularly bad year for them. Although the symptoms are unpleasant, people generally get better quickly and without medical attention. In response to this we have been providing information to medical providers and the public on how to prevent and deal with norovirus illnesses. Further information is available on our website and below:
Winter brings viruses into our environment and we share these readily when we huddle together against the cold. One of the most common causes of diarrhea in adults is a group of viruses called norovirus or Norwalk virus.
Symptoms of norovirus are typically: about 12 to 48 hours after exposure, and often starting quickly and acutely, people infected experience watery and non-bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting, and sometimes body aches and a low fever. Twelve to sixty hours later, the symptoms subside as quickly as they appeared.
Norovirus often causes outbreaks, particularly in places where people eat and live together, such as a cruise ship or a long-term care facility, because it spreads easily from one person to another. The virus can also survive in the environment for several days. Found in the vomit and feces of infected people, the virus is transmitted by people:
eating or drinking food contaminated with norovirus; touching surfaces (counters or tables) or objects (doorknobs or toilets) contaminated with norovirus, and then touching mouth or nose; having direct contact with a person who is showing symptoms
There is no treatment and no vaccine for norovirus. For most people, the illness will run its course within a few days. Very young and elderly people, however, may become dehydrated, requiring additional care to recover.
The best way to prevent norovirus infection is to wash your hands well and often and disinfect surfaces that might become contaminated with the virus. For good handwashing steps, see the Handwashing page on this website. If someone in your household has norovirus symptoms, clean linens, clothing, and surfaces. Use a 10% bleach solution to clean surfaces – one part household bleach to 9 parts clean water, or 1.5 cups of household bleach in one gallon of water. Remember that bleach can also cause problems if applied without ventilation. After a ten-minute soak, wash the bleach solution off with soap and warm water. Wash clothes and linens with hot water and soap.
If you have norovirus symptoms, stay away from household members and stay home from work. Don’t prepare food for at least three days after your last symptom.
Food can carry the virus, so make sure you wash all raw fruits and vegetables before eating them.
If you suspect you have a norovirus, contact your medical provider. If you have symptoms, stay away from child care or long-term care facilities and other places where the virus that contaminated you could infect several people.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
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