Health District reports increase in norovirus in Central Montana

The Central Montana Health District infectious disease program announced Wednesday there has been a sharp increase in norovirus reports in Lewistown. Norovirus, a very contagious virus that can affect anyone, is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in Montana and the U.S. CMHD has been working with communicable disease experts at the Department of Public Health and Human Services to help control any outbreaks. “Most outbreaks occur 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 one to three 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. CMHD and DPHHS 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 1,000-5,000 parts per million (generally five 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 CMHD website: www.cmhd-fcno.org.

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