Norovirus in Nursing Homes

What to Know About Norovirus in Nursing Homes

Assuming you made it through the holidays without contracting the flu from Aunt Bea or Cousin Alex, I’m here to remind you that you’re not quite out of the woods. That said, your conscientious efforts to remain healthy and avoid viruses this season—perhaps by receiving a flu shot—need not be in vain! Enter noroviruses, a nasty little group of viruses that can cause the highly loathed stomach flu, or, more scientifically speaking, acute gastroenteritis. Norovirus illness is not related to the flu, or influenza, and is therefore immune to the flu shot. And forget antibiotics, as they only work to battle bacteria—not viruses. There is no cure; just prevention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s estimated that in a typical year in the US, 23 million people are infected with some type of norovirus, some 50,000 of whom are hospitalized, and 300 of whom die.

Norovirus cases are more dangerous in nursing homes—long-term care facilities for people who need skilled care—and hospitals, where elderly patients in frail health can become extremely ill. In fact, the virus has struck many nursing homes throughout the country in the past several months. Last week a nursing home administrator turned away a Gilbert Guide surveyor (on assignment to update facility information for our Bay Area edition) as several of her residents were sick with a norovirus and under quarantine. The symptoms of norovirus are similar to that of the stomach flu, typically resulting in a one or two-day bout of diarrhea and vomiting, usually accompanied by headache, fever, muscle aches and fatigue. In addition, the virus is extremely contagious, spreading easily from food or liquid that has been handled by someone carrying the bug. People with a norovirus are contagious “from the moment they begin feeling ill to at least three days after recovery” according to the CDC. But the virus may remain in the gastrointestinal tract up to three weeks after illness!

How is the Virus Spread?

  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus
  • Having contact with doorknobs, toilet handles and other contaminated surfaces
  • Being in direct contact with someone infected with the virus

Staff at many nursing homes have taken important steps to help prevent the spread of the virus, including isolating ill residents in their rooms, using disposable plates and utensils, and wearing masks, gloves and gowns when working with residents who have been infected with the virus.

Tips You Can Take to Prevent Further Outbreaks:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and warm water, especially after using the toilet, changing diapers and before eating or preparing food
  • Eat food that is well cooked and still hot when served
  • Wash fruits and veggies well before eating
  • Disinfect bathrooms with a bleach solution, especially following use
  • Discard food handled by a person with the virus
  • Wash utensils, dishes and laundry in hot water and detergent
  • Wear household gloves when handling soiled materials

Fortunately, the next several months will see the reduction of norovirus outbreaks as the virus runs its course in the winter. Until then, following these simple tips should keep you in the clear!

Until next time...Ami Icanberry