VIHA warns of Norovirus outbreaks on Island

Norovirus outbreaks are limiting visiting at the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital and Victoria General Hospital.

  • Dec. 30, 2010 8:00 a.m.

Norovirus outbreaks are limiting visiting at the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital and Victoria General Hospital.

Winter is the peak time of year for Norovirus, a mild but highly infectious vomiting and diarrhea illness that can spread rapidly through families and institutions, according to the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA).

Norovirus infection can occur any time of year, but the Christmas holiday — with its many social gatherings, potlucks, buffet dinners and communal bowls of nuts and candies — can be an especially active period for Norovirus infection, the health authority noted in a press release.

Noroviruses are the most common causes of gastro-intestinal illness in Canada, and reported outbreaks tend to peak during the winter months.

This year is following that pattern, and outbreaks of Norovirus illness have been declared at Victoria General Hospital and Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

Visitor restrictions are in place at both hospitals, limiting the number of visitors to two per patient during visiting hours.

Visitors should not visit the hospital if feeling unwell, and all visitors must follow precautions and maintain strict hand hygiene.

Symptoms of a Norovirus infection can include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, body aches and sometimes fever. People typically become ill 24 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus, and symptoms usually last one to two days.

Prevention is straightforward — wash your hands properly with soap and water, prepare and handle food with the utmost of care, and if you are ill, stay home and don’t prepare food for others until 48 hours after your last symptoms.

Norovirus particles are present in huge numbers in the stool and vomit of infected people. They are spread by the fecal-oral route, primarily through person-to-person contact or contamination of food touched by a person who is currently ill or has been recently ill and didn’t wash their hands appropriately or by airborne droplet transmission in explosive vomiting or diarrhea. Only a very small amount of virus is needed to cause infection.

Anyone who suspects they may have Norovirus-like symptoms should call their family doctor’s office or the 24-hour BC Health Guide Nurse Line at 8-1-1 for help in determining the nature and urgency of their medical condition.

In healthy individuals, this type of virus can be managed at home with fluid replacement and rest. However, if a person becomes severely dehydrated, he or she should seek emergency care.

To see active outbreak sites, visit www.viha.ca/mho/public_health_alerts/active_outbreak_list.

For more information about Norovirus, refer to the BC Health Guide Health Files at www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/.

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