Norovirus cases surfacing in Central Alberta

  • Nov. 30, 2011 4:03 p.m.

A recent increase in gastro-intestinal illnesses, including Norovirus, across the Central Zone has prompted Alberta Health Services (AHS) to remind area residents of important precautions to reduce the spread of illness.

Norovirus is a viral infection that occurs throughout the year, most commonly in the winter.

Symptoms almost always include vomiting and/or diarrhea and may include muscle aches and low-grade fever. Although symptoms usually last only 48 to 72 hours, and in most cases require no special treatment, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Central Zone Medical Officer of Health says the virus can be debilitating for the very young, the very old, and those with weakened immune systems.

“Anyone who is ill, or suspects they might be ill, should stay home from work, refrain from visiting loved ones in seniors’ residences and other facilities, and refrain from preparing food for others.

“Children who are experiencing GI symptoms should also stay home from school or daycare until feeling better. In addition, if anyone in your household is ill with Norovirus-like symptoms, please limit visits to hospitals or care residences, even if you yourself are feeling well.”

Gastro-intestinal illnesses, and particularly Norovirus, can spread quickly, most often through close contact with an infected individual or by eating food prepared by someone who is ill with the infection.

Hinshaw recommends a few simple precautions to help people stay healthy and avoid illness — always wash your hands after using the bathroom, after providing care to an ill person, after handling soiled laundry and before handling food. Individuals experiencing vomiting and/or diarrhea should not attend schools or childcare facilities, attend work, visit seniors’ residences, continuing care facilities or hospitals or prepare food for others.

Meanwhile, the influenza vaccine is still available, free of charge, to all Albertans six months of age and older through influenza immunization clinics as well as some pharmacist and physician offices.

According to Alberta Health Services, seasonal influenza (commonly known as the ‘flu’) is a serious infection of the respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs) caused by a virus that spreads easily from person to person by respiratory droplets through the air when a person coughs or sneezes.

It is also spread through contact with surfaces contaminated by the influenza virus (toys, eating utensils and unwashed hands). Seasonal influenza affects people across the world, can affect anybody in any age group and occurs in Canada anytime during the late fall/winter months (November to April).

The virus can also live on hands or other surfaces and be passed through touching. The virus can live on hard surfaces such as toys, eating utensils, door handles and telephones for up to 48 hours and soft surfaces such as cloths for eight to 10 hours.

It is then spread when a person touches these contaminated surfaces and then touches their own mouth, nose or eyes before washing their hands.

Seasonal influenza infection most commonly causes a sudden onset of high fever, cough (usually dry), headache, muscle and joint aches and pain, severe malaise (feeling unwell), sore throat and runny nose. Other symptoms may include fatigue and decreased appetite. Uncommon symptoms may include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

According to AHS, most people who get influenza recover within a week without requiring medical attention. Cough and fatigue can persist for several weeks, making it difficult to return to full activities.

Persons at higher risk of complications related to influenza are sometimes ill for a longer period of time, possibly developing complications and requiring hospitalization. About 2,000 to 8,000 Canadians can die from seasonal influenza and its complications each year depending on the severity of the season.

For more information, including complete immunization clinic schedules go online at www.albertahealthservices.ca or call Health Link Alberta toll-free at 1-866-408-LINK (5465).

-Weber

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