Recent news articles have been reporting outbreaks of "stomach flu" caused by a "Norwalk-type" virus, or norovirus.
Some of the Ohio communities affected include Columbus, Wooster and Toledo. Statistics from the Ohio Department of Health indicate 34 such outbreaks in Ohio between Nov. 1 and Feb. 11.
Feb. 24, USA Today reported January through April are the prime months for norovirus infections. Information on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (www.cdc.gov) says the illness has affected people on cruise ships, in schools and colleges, nursing homes and other confined places.
With that in mind, Jane Cook, RN-BC, director of nursing at St. Francis Home, Tiffin, has plans to protect residents, staff and visitors from the contagious norovirus.
"CDC had put out some information on the norovirus - it is basically nausea, vomiting and fever - and concern that people aren't tracking it. So we had a special training and we've developed protocols as to what we would do, so that we're a step ahead of any outbreak," Cook said.
So far, no norovirus cases have been discovered at the home, but the staff has divided the building and mapped out a chain of people to contact if symptoms are observed with a patient, visitor or employee.
Posters have been hung in the halls to advise guests to refrain from visiting if they have any symptoms that indicate disease.
Laura Wallrabenstein, director of environmental health at the health department, said some possible cases of norovirus have cropped up in the county, but she declined to give specific locations.
"We are working on some people that do have some gastrointestinal problems, and we will be - providing we get the samples necessary - submitting some samples for testing. At this point it is just a few," Wallrabenstein said.
At St. Francis, some residents have been experiencing coughing and upper-respiratory illnesses, Cook said. The norovirus is a concern because it is highly contagious, from the moment symptoms first appear. The average incubation period is 12-48 hours with a medium of 33 hours.
The infection triggers an acute onset of nausea and vomiting, watery diarrhea and cramping. Cook said the symptoms can last up to 60 hours. Dehydration is an issue, even with otherwise healthy people. Anyone who has been hit with the virus is asked to be symptom-free for at least 48 hours before coming into St. Francis Home or any other care facility.
CDC information also has been posted in employee lounges and food service areas at St. Francis, along with measures to limit transmission. The best means of prevention is hand-washing, keeping surfaces, clothing and bedding clean and avoiding those who are actively sick. Cook has passed out information to employees. She said the goal is to protect everyone and prevent the spread of disease. There is no vaccine for norovirus and no treatment.
"We do have masks here that we provide. They're at the front (desk) when you walk in. We have them on every unit. We even place them in the elevators, if somebody wants one," Cook said. "We're trying to be very proactive, so if we do get any kind of bug out here, we can contain it. ... One blessing we have here is private rooms."