Newsletter – February 2009

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February 2009 Newsletter for Seniors on Vancouver Island

Norwalk – the very word strikes fear into health care workers who are constantly fighting to prevent yet another outbreak of this debilitating virus. As a virus it is incredibly resilient and constantly lies in wait for the next unsuspecting host.

Outbreaks in hospitals and other care facilities are instantly fodder for the media and the subject of the much finger pointing that follows. In many cases this is totally unfounded, because in reality facilities are constantly being re-infected by visitors who have become carriers by being exposed to the virus in their communities.

We need to break this cycle, and this can be largely achieved by simply washing our hands before and after any visit to care facilities. There is no substitute for hot water and soap. However, in the environment that we now live in, try keeping a container of hand sanitizer in your car and use it every time you get into the vehicle.

We owe it to ourselves, and to those around us, to do what we can to minimize this constant re-infection that can have such deadly consequences.

The following article is copied from the web site of the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Roy Summerhayes


What is it?
Viral gastroenteritis, often referred to as ‘winter vomiting disease’ or “stomach flu”, is a common illness. It should not be confused with influenza, which is commonly referred to as the “flu”. Influenza virus causes an illness with symptoms like cough and sore throat, fever, muscle aches, headaches and tiredness and last 3-5 days.
How do people get infected?
The illness is commonly caused by norovirus.

Where does the virus come from and how is it spread?
The main source of the virus is stool and vomit from infected persons. The virus can be spread from person-to-person on unwashed hands. The virus can also be spread by food, water or ice that has been handled by a sick person. Vomiting may spread the virus through the air. The virus can survive on surfaces such as countertops or sink taps for a long time.

What are the Symptoms?
The main symptoms are sudden onset of nausea, cramping, chills and fever. Usually vomiting and/or diarrhea are also present. Symptoms generally last between one to three days. Fluid loss can be a serious problem for the elderly or very young.

Is there a treatment available?
Drinking lots of clear fluids while ill is important. If diarrhea or vomiting lasts more than two to three days see a doctor. If three or more persons are ill at the same time, this should be reported to your local public health unit.
How do I avoid getting this disease?
There is no vaccine or medicine that can prevent norovirus. Also there are different types of norovirus so people who have had it once can get norovirus again. The key to reducing person-to-person spread of norovirus is hand washing. A proper hand wash requires warm running water, soap and rubbing hands together for about 30 seconds.

Anyone who is ill should avoid going to work, especially food handlers or caregivers. Even after they are well people can carry the virus in their stool for a few days so careful hand washing should continue.

What should I do?
If several members of a family are sick with vomiting and diarrhea, clean up at once and disinfect the house by cleaning the floors, counters and furniture with a dilute bleach solution once everyone is well. Visitors should be asked to stay away while there are sick persons in the house and for a few days after until the house is cleaned. If only one person is sick, others family members may become sick after 24-48 hours. The sick person should try to keep to his or her own room and have little contact with the other family members. Everyone must do careful handwashing.

Cleaning up after a vomiting accident, using hot water and detergent is important. Surfaces should then be wiped down with a dilute bleach solution (at least 1 part household bleach to 50 parts water) to kill the virus. Any food that has been handled by an ill person should be discarded. So should food that could have been exposed when someone vomits. Dishes or utensils should be washed in a dishwasher or with hot water and detergent. Laundry should also be washed in hot water and detergent. Bathrooms and toilet areas need special care. They should be cleaned often with a dilute bleach solution.

Household cleaners other than bleach are not effective. Use a dilute solution of bleach to clean up vomit or feces-contaminated areas. Make up dilute solution of bleach in a pail: 4 teaspoons of bleach (20mls) to 1 litre of water.

When cleaning up vomit or feces:
Wear disposable gloves if possible. Use paper towels to soak up excess liquid. Transfer these and any solid matter directly into a plastic garbage bag. First, clean the soiled area with detergent and hot water. Do not use the cleaning cloth or sponge to clean other areas of the house as this may lead to further spread of the virus. Wipe area with freshly made bleach solution (as above). Dispose of all cleaning cloths and gloves into a garbage bag Wash hands thoroughly using soap and running water for at least 30 seconds.

Cleaning around the house:
Clean bathrooms frequently and with dilute bleach solution. Clean toilets, sinks and any commonly touched areas. Do not share towels, and quickly machine-wash any towels used by ill family members. Dispose of any exposed food, including food handled by ill family members or near where someone has vomited. Wash all dishes, glasses, and utensils with hot water, and in a dishwasher if possible using a “hot cycle”. Wash any bedding as soon as possible on a “hot cycle”. Soiled carpets should be cleaned with detergent and hot water.

Thanks to: BC Centres for Disease Control