Region having a ‘typical bad year’ for Norovirus outbreaks

Norovirus is hitting Central Alberta hard.

Norovirus is hitting Central Alberta hard.

Symptoms — vomiting and diarrhea — of the common viral infection usually last 48 to 72 hours and may also include muscle aches and low-grade fever.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services Central Zone, said it’s a “typical bad year” in the region for Norovirus.

“We had a couple of outbreaks in late September and started seeing higher numbers in October and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down,” said Hinshaw on Monday.

Some of the outbreaks have been going on for a few weeks and some just happened in the last few of days.

“At the moment, we have four outbreaks that we know for sure are Norovirus and four others we suspect are, but don’t have confirmation yet from the lab.”

Confirmed outbreaks are at seniors living facilities in the region. AHS does not publicize the names of affected facilities, but information and signs would be posted at those facilities to alert visitors.

Norovirus can cause dehydration in people very young and very old with existing health problems, and can require hospitalization.

AHS does not typically test at schools, but has heard of some schools with large numbers of students sick this season.

Hinshaw said the number of people who catch the virus fluctuates from year to year. About five out of 10 years are bad Norovirus years.

Once Norovirus arrives, it typically stays in the community for several months.

She wants people to know that the virus that is circulating is not influenza.

“A lot of people think the flu shot will protect them against these symptoms because they think of nausea and vomiting as the flu. But the flu shot is for the influenza virus, which typically causes fever, cough, muscle aches, chills.”

Norovirus is highly contagious and spreads most often through close contact with an infected individual or by eating food prepared by someone who is infected.

AHS advises people to thoroughly wash their 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, child-care facilities, or work. They should not visit continuing care facilities or hospitals. They should not prepare food for others.

Hinshaw said people still shed the virus for three or more days after they’re feeling better.

For more information, call Health Link Alberta toll-free at 1-866-408-LINK (5465).