Health Department Warns of Norovirus Outbreak
Illnesses found at long-term care facilities in county, health department advises how to prevent spread.
An outbreak of norovirus, which causes the stomach flu, is being reported at three long-term care facilities where 14 cases have been confirmed, the McHenry County Department of Health said Monday.
Six people have been hospitalized due to dehydration, a common side effect of norovirus, spokeswoman Debra Quackenbush said. A total of 129 people are ill, she said.
It is the same virus that has affected school children in Cook and Lake Counties; however, Quackenbush said no schools in McHenry County have reported illnesses.
Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. A complete list of symptoms and causes is available at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/revb/gastro/norovirus-qa.htm.
While norovirus can cause stomach flu, it is not related to influenza, an upper respiratory virus. Norovirus also affects the intestinal tract, she said.
Norovirus is problematic in LTC facilities whose residents tend to be frail with chronic illnesses, Quackenbush said. The illness is highly contagious, spreading quickly from person-to-person, she said.
Another problem is the illness cannot be treated with antibiotics, she said. The illness must run its course, usually between 24 to 48 hours, she said.
The health department is asking the public to take steps to help prevent the spread _ especially with the holiday coming up _ by washing hands thoroughly and not visiting relatives in nursing homes if they are sick, she said.
"If people are sick and getting together with family over the holiday, I would recommend you stay home" until the illness passes, Quackenbush said. It doesn't take much to spread the illness, she added.
Hand washing education will be provided to other LTC facilities over the next week as a preventative measure, she said. Good hygiene practices are important for everyone to prevent the spread of illness, she said. The health department and the CDC make the following recommendations:
- Frequent washing of hands, especially after going to the restroom, before eating and preparing food.
- If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer that is 60 percent alcohol-based to kill viruses.
- Thorough cleaning and disinfecting of high touch areas (e.g. telephones, railings, tables) using a bleach-based household disinfectant.
- Immediately removing and washing clothing or linens that may be contaminated with diarrhea or vomit (using hot water and soap).