Two senior care facilities in Davis are working with Yolo County health officials to contain a suspected outbreak of norovirus, a gastrointestinal virus that is believed to have affected as many as 80 senior citizens in the past several weeks.
“We know that one case for sure is norovirus,” said Bruce Sarazin, director of the county health department’s Environmental Health Division. “And, we know that other people at the facilities have similar systems.”
For that reason Sarazin said his department decided to sound the alarm. He said officials need to await further confirmation before they will know for certain how much the virus has affected the facilities.
“We’re not going to have tests back for a week,” Sarazin said. “Probably not until Friday at the earliest that we will have the information.“
Until that time Sarazin said health officials will not release the names of the centers. He did say that residents of the facilities and their families have been notified.
Norovirus, also still known to some as the Norwalk virus, is the cause of a large majority of the cases of “stomach flu,” or gastroenteritis, according to the website of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The virus is easily transmitted, and prompts a sudden onset of diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramping, and flu-like symptoms. Symptoms normally occur within two to three days of infection, and infected patients usually get better in one to three days, according to a statement released Friday by the County of Yolo Health Department.
Norovirus can infect anyone, though it very often strikes areas of very close quarters, and in elder populations and babies. Those with genetically weak immune systems may also be quite prone to infection. Sarazin said that he does not yet know why only these two Davis facilities have been infected.
“It’s just one of those things, really,” he said. “Like cruise ships, and jails and other close quarters; once the virus gets started in those kinds of facilities, you want to slow the spread as much as possible.“
Sarazin added that it doesn’t look like the virus will continue to spread since the pace of infection has dramatically slowed over the weekend, and that officials are very hopeful this will be a controlled outbreak situation.
Maria Lucchesi, community services supervisor of the Davis Senior Center, said the outbreak has not affected the attendance to the regular Senior Center programs and classes. She also said the center has “made copies of the health department’s ‘How to combat Norovirus‘ document available at our Senior Center greeter desk.“
The virus is originally found in fecal matter and vomit. According to the CDC, it is highly contagious and can be spread in several ways, including:
•Eating food or drinking liquids contaminated by an infected person.
•Touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching the mouth or eating without washing hands first.
It is for these reasons that health department officials urge those who work in food and health care facilities and other close environments to be particularly careful in their behavior around the ill and around food products.
There is no treatment for norovirus, and neither is there a vaccine. Consistent washing of food, food surfaces and possibly contaminated areas are key. But to Sarazin, there is one main deterrent to the spread of the virus.
“Emphasize the consistent hand washing,” Sarazin said. “If you don’t have it and you wash your hands a lot, you can prevent yourself from being infected. If you do have it you wash your hands a lot, you can effectively prevent the virus from spreading.“
For more information, contact the Yolo County Health Department at 666-8645.
TOM MORRIS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.