ALBANY, Ga. -- While the seasonal flu is still making its rounds, another bug is making its presence felt in Southwest Georgia.
Norovirus, which causes about 20 million gastroenteritis cases each year in the United States, has been noted in the Southwest Public Health District in recent weeks, public health officials say.
Jacqueline Jenkins, epidemiologist with the health district, said Thursday that officials were working with nursing home facilities in Albany and Thomasville that have seen 60 residents and 15 staff members impacted so far.
"We are concerned because it is in long-term care facilities. In this population, there is (greater potential for complications)," she said. "In these facilities, we take it very seriously."
Norovirus illness is sometimes called "food poisoning" or "stomach flu." There is no vaccine to prevent the infection, public health officials say, and there is no drug to treat people who get sick from the virus.
Antibiotics will not help someone with norovirus because antibiotics fight bacteria, not viruses.
The current outbreak reflects what area officials would typically see, and the infection will generally last one to two days in a population where everyone is healthy, Jenkins said.
Facilities that allow for close contact with a large number of people, including nursing homes, schools and day care centers, have the greatest potential for an outbreak, Jenkins said. The illness can be serious in young children, the elderly and people with other health conditions -- and can lead to severe dehydration, hospitalization and even death.
Way to reduce the chances of getting norovirus include:
- Wash hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers. If soap and water aren't available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer;
- Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them;
- People with norovirus illness should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for three days after they recover;
- After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces by using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label. If no such cleaning product is available, use a solution made with five tablespoons to 1.5 cups of household bleach per one gallon of water;
- Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. Handle soiled items carefully, disturbing them as little as possible, to avoid spreading the virus. If available, wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash hands after handling. The items should be washed with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dried.
Symptoms of norovirus infection usually include diarrhea, throwing up, nausea and stomach cramping. Less common symptoms may include low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and general sense of fatigue. The virus is spread through the stool or vomit of infected people, and is generally contracted by people eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated, touching surfaces or objects that are contaminated and placing their hand in their mouth or having direct contact with someone else who has the virus.