EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

January 23, 2007

Stomach virus sickens dozens

DERRY - An outbreak of the highly contagious norovirus has sickened 67 people who live or work at Pleasant Valley Nursing Center, state health officials said yesterday.

The gastrointestinal virus has been spreading statewide since December, but in the past two weeks there have been 34 suspected outbreaks that have left thousands sick, Health and Human Services spokesman Greg Moore said. A total of 19 of those outbreaks were confirmed to be norovirus.

While people typically recover from the virus within about two days, those sickened by the virus can end up hospitalized with dehydration. For this reason, Moore said the state is urging people to be vigilant about washing their hands and cleaning common surfaces to prevent transmission.

"We see it every year typically about this time of year. Norovirus is not uncommon," Moore said. "People are coming indoors, spending a lot more time indoors, and the way it's spread is by people not appropriately washing their hands."

Symptoms of the virus include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. It is spread from person to person through feces. Cooking shellfish thoroughly before eating and washing raw vegetables also reduces the risk of getting the virus.

Health care facilities aren't required to report norovirus, but it's common to see the virus spread where there are several people living in close proximity, Moore said.

No one was available for comment yesterday afternoon at Pleasant Valley Nursing Center, which is on Peabody Road. Moore said 46 of the center's 112 residents and 21 of the 150 staff members had become sick.

Derry Bureau of Public Health Director Kerran Vigroux said the virus isn't widespread in town, but it's highly contagious. While there is no treatment, she said it is important for people who are infected with the virus to drink plenty of fluids.

"Dehydration can happen quickly," she said.

Staff writer Shelley Thompson contributed to this report.


What is norovirus?

A group of viruses that cause gastrointestinal illness. It can be responsible for large outbreaks.

How do you get it?

The virus is spread by people not properly washing their hands. Outbreaks have been linked to sick food handlers, ill health-care workers or contaminated shellfish.

What are the symptoms?

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. They start one to two days after exposure.

How long does it last?

One to two days.

How is it treated?

Rest and plenty of fluids. Dehydration can occur. Stay home.

How do I prevent it?

Wash your hands and wash raw vegetables. Cook shellfish thoroughly.

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