HUNTERDON COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
NOROVIRUS-LIKE ILLNESS HITS HUNTERDON
The Hunterdon County Department of Health announced today that it is addressing an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness — possibly norovirus — in three elementary schools and a daycare center. The virus currently affects 122 people ranging in age from Pre-K to adult. Although lab tests have not yet confirmed norovirus, the illness and how it spread is consistent with a norovirus outbreak. Plus, norovirus outbreaks are more common in winter.
Since the onset in mid-January, county health department epidemiologist Karen Alelis and communicable disease nurse, Cathy Zuercher, RN, teamed with school nurses and staff at the affected schools to conduct surveillance for additional cases and to review infection control practices. In turn, the schools are keeping parents informed through communications to the home.
Norovirus causes a gastrointestinal illness producing nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. Most people become infected by eating food or drinking liquids contaminated with norovirus, or by touching surfaces or objects tainted by the virus and then touching their mouth. It is also possible to contract the virus through direct contact with a person who is infected and experiencing symptoms.
“Norovirus illness is usually brief in people who are otherwise healthy,” said John Beckley, health officer and director of the Hunterdon County Department of Health. “But because the infection can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea, parents and adults who are affected should watch for possible dehydration.”
Norovirus infection can be more serious when it affects young children, the elderly, and people with other illnesses as it can raise their risks for dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration include a decrease in urination, a dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when standing up. A dehydrated child may also cry with few or no tears and be unusually sleepy or fussy.
“Dehydration can lead to other serious problems,” explained Beckley. “Severe dehydration may require hospitalization and treatment with intravenous fluids. It’s important to prevent dehydration during norovirus illness.” If you think you or someone you are caring for is severely dehydrated, contact your healthcare provider.
To protect against dehydration, drink plenty of liquids, especially drinks that do not contain caffeine or alcohol. Some oral rehydration solutions commonly available in food and drug stores include Infalyte, Kao Lectrolyte, Naturalyte, Oralyte, and Pedialyte. If you are unsure about which product to use or how to use these pre-mixed fluids, contact your healthcare provider.
When it comes to norovirus, there is no vaccine or drug to treat those who become infected. And antibiotic drugs are no help either because they fight against bacteria not viruses.
To decrease your chances of coming into contact with norovirus, follow these preventive steps: Frequently wash your hands with soap and water (alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not effective against norovirus), especially after toilet visits and changing diapers and before eating or preparing food; carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and steam oysters before eating them; thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner; immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with virus after an episode of illness (use hot water and soap); flush vomit or stool in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is kept clean and disinfected.
Persons who are infected with norovirus should not prepare food while they have symptoms and for three days after they recover from their illness. Food that may have been contaminated by an ill person should be disposed of properly.