The Minnesota Veterans Home confirmed today that four patients died last weekend due to a Norovirus outbreak. The Minnesota Department of Health is investigating these deaths as well as almost three dozen other patients who have recently contracted the virus. All of these patients are or were housed in the Alzheimer’s/ Dementia Unit of the Minnesota Veterans Home. But the Norovirus outbreak has not been limited to the Veterans Home, or to Minnesota. Since the beginning of the year, there have been at least 40 documented cases of the Norovirus, mostly in nursing homes and other group residences for the elderly. Yet today a school in Alexandria, Washington, DC was closed after more than 200 students and 30 staff became ill from the virus. For more information on this story, click on the following link-
The Norovirus, also sometimes called Norwalk Virus, sounds like a new, mysterious illness. But chances are, it is something you have experienced more than once yourself, but you’ve probably called it “The Stomach Flu” or “Food Poisoning.” The newest strain of the Norovirus is called “GII.4 Sydney.”According to the Center for Disease Control, (CDC,) the major symptoms of this virus include extreme Gastroentitis, including stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. A low grade fever may or may not be present. The virus can be contracted due to contamination from a person who is already infected, touching a surface that has been contaminated, or ingesting contaminated food or water. Each year it is estimated that up to 800 deaths in the United States can be attributed to this virus.
Like many illnesses, the Norovirus is most dangerous for people with compromised immune systems, the elderly, and young children. While the extremely old and the extremely young may be subject to this illness due to their bodies lacking the strength of a healthy adult, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that each end of the age spectrum also often lacks the mental faculties and/or the communication skills to take action when something is wrong. For example, when experiencing stomach cramps, a baby may appear more fussy and an elderly person may appear more withdrawn and irritable, while an average adult would most likely either seek help from a doctor, or at the very least complain to someone who is close to them. With this image in mind, it is easy to see how an epidemic of Norovirus would find its perfect home in a middle school or unit for people with Dementia.
However the average adult is certainly not immune to the virus. In recent years we have seen multiple incidents of Norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships. Some people have blamed the staff, saying that they did not properly wash their hands and/or did not clean the food thoroughly enough. Others have cited the ocean-liner’s vast array of seafood, including shellfish, a common culprit of food poisoning. But more than likely, the main reason for extreme incidents of the Norovirus can be attributed to the fact that large amounts of people are enclosed in one space. Since the virus can be contracted simply being in the vicinity of a person who is infected, it is no wonder that a cramped cruise ship is the perfect breeding ground for the virus.
In general, the best cure for the Norovirus is to rest and rehydrate the body. While we should always practice good hygiene, it is imperative to thoroughly wash your hands when you have the virus. It should also be noted that even after your symptoms have gone, you may still be a carrier of the virus for a two weeks afterward. Some cases of the Norovirus have been spread when an employee returned to work too soon after he or she had had the illness, and that person unknowingly spread the virus to others.
The school in Washington hired a professional cleaning crew to sanitize the entire building, and asked parents not to return their students to school on Monday if they still have symptoms. Locally, staff at the Veterans Home have delayed both visitors and new admissions, and residents have been eating their meals within their housing units. Since the Norovirus can be contracted from those who are infected, or by touching surfaces that have been contaminated with the virus, staff have also started wearing masks and gloves when working in the Alzheimer’s/Dementia Unit until they can be certain that this outbreak has ended.
For more information about the Norovirus, see the following link to the Center for Disease Control, (CDC.)
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