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Virus hits county

February 15, 2012

A stomach virus known to plague passengers on cruiseships has hit Auglaize County and is causing problems for its most frail residents.

The highly contagious norovirus was reported in two New Bremen and Minster area nursing homes during the last week in a level high enough that the facilities posted signs requesting limited visitation.

But they aren’t the only nursing homes seeing signs of the virus, Auglaize County Nursing Supervisor Cindy Jones told Auglaize County Health Board members Tuesday during their regular meeting.

“All facilities’ numbers are up,” Jones said. “We assume it’s because that’s what’s in the community. We’re seeing a lot of it everywhere. They are doing a nice job of containing it.”

She said the hope is by limiting visitation people won’t come into the nursing homes and take the virus back into their homes or elsewhere in the community.

While she said the norovirus has been reported in other segments of the county, including schools and places of employment, it hits nursing home patients particularly hard because of their weakened immune systems.

She advised those with underlying health conditions causing weakened immune systems to stay out of crowds.

Norovirus spreads person to person through contaminated food, water or by touching contaminated surfaces and is the leading cause of food- borne disease outbreaks in the United States. Outbreaks can happen to people of all ages and in a variety of settings.

“In long-term care facilities its viral, it goes in the air you breath,” Jones said of how it is easily spread within a building.

She said the best way to prevent the spread of the virus is hand washing with soap and water especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers may be helpful in addition to hand washing, but are not a substitute for washing with soap and water.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends carefully washing fruits and vegetables, cooking oysters and shellfish before eating, not preparing food for others while sick or recovering, cleaning and disinfecting contaminated surfaces immediately using a bleach-based cleaner, and washing laundry thoroughly with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine drying.

Jones said the highly contagious virus is characterized by stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. It can cause serious stomach pains with vomiting and diarrhea many times a day.

There is no vaccine to prevent the virus and no specific drug to treat it. Rehydration is important for those infected with it and they must drink plenty of liquids to replace lost fluid. In severe cases, fluid may need to be given intravenously.

While most people get better in a day or two, dehydration can be a problem for the very young, elderly and those with other illnesses.

“It’s a lot more serious in a 90-pound, 80-year-old who’s with underlying health concerns,” Jones said.

With already low weights, vomiting and diarrhea for several days can be devastating for the elderly, she said.

Jones said they’ve been working with nursing home management to educate residents and the public about the disease.

“The main thing we can do for this is offer support,” Jones said, explaining that first the virus was confirmed through testing samples.

Jones said norovirus is being seen all across the state and elsewhere in the region, county and neighboring counties in a variety of locations.

“It’s nothing new,” Jones said. “It is important to not only limit visitors in nursing homes where residents are already compromised but when something like this is going on staff are sick too and stressed and stretched. Sometimes limiting visitors is the best thing they can do.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, norovirus is highly contagious and outbreaks are common due to the ease of transmission. It spreads rapidly in closed environments like daycare centers and nursing homes.

People with the virus are contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill to at least three days and up to two weeks after recovery, making control of the disease even more difficult.

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