Public health reporting increase in norovirus outbreaks

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Public Information Officer Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer

The Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) announced today that in the last three months there have been 12 norovirus outbreaks in Montana that have sickened more than 250 people.

This is three times the number of outbreaks usually reported during this time of year.

Norovirus, a very contagious virus that can affect anyone, is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in Montana and the US.

Outbreaks have occurred in the counties of Cascade, Flathead, Rosebud, Sanders, Valley and Yellowstone.

“Most of these outbreaks occurred in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, putting our elderly population at risk,” said Dana Fejes of the DPHHS Communicable Disease Epidemiology Section. “Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water often can protect you and others from norovirus.”

The usual symptoms of norovirus include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. There is no specific treatment for this illness and most individuals recover in 1 to 3 days. The illness can last longer and be more severe in young children, older people, or people who have other chronic health conditions.

The virus is highly contagious and can spread rapidly between persons and through contaminated food or water. Norovirus can survive on surfaces and be transferred to other people when they touch the contaminated surface.

DPHHS and local authorities are reminding individuals to stay home when ill to prevent exposing others. “It’s a simple and effective method to keep infectious diseases from spreading: stay home when you are ill,” Fejes said.

Public health officials advise following simple tips to prevent the spread of norovirus and many other infectious illnesses:

•Practice proper hand hygiene: Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing. But, they should not be used as a substitute for washing with soap and water.

• Take care in the kitchen: Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.

• Do not prepare food while ill: People who are infected with norovirus should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for 3 days after they recover from their illness.

• Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces: After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces. Use a chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of 1000–5000 parts per million (generally 5 to 25 tablespoons of standard household bleach per gallon of water) or other disinfectant labeled as effective against norovirus.

• Wash laundry thoroughly: Immediately remove clothing or linens that may be contaminated and wash with detergent at the maximum length available cycle, then machine dry. Handle soiled items carefully—without agitating them—to avoid spreading virus.

More information is available on the state health department website at dphhs.mt.gov.

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