Friday, August 15, 2008

Hospitals And The Vomiting Bug

An outbreak of the "vomiting bug" has closed a ward at Calderdale Royal Hospital in the United Kingdom. According to an article in the Evening Courier, the ward has been closed to new admissions since Monday, after an outbreak of  "sickness and diarrhea" developed among the patients.

Hospital administrators have asked non-essential visitors to stay away, but haven't gone so far as to embargo all visitors to the ward. The cause of the outbreak has not yet been identified; the hospital suspects either Clostridium difficile or Norovirus is behind the sickness.

On the other side of the world, a New Zealand hospital is still struggling to contain its own Norovirus outbreak. The New Zealand Herald reported that two more wards were closed – both to visitors and to new admissions – by Dunedin Hospital earlier this week after nine patients and three staff members began to suffer from vomiting and diarrhea on Sunday. A scheduled surgery also was postponed. Yesterday, yet another ward was closed after four of its 18 patients began to experience the same symptoms. 

The outbreaks experienced by these two hospitals highlight the difficulty all hospitals face when trying to control an infectious disease outbreak. High traffic volume, visitors sporting contagious illnesses, susceptible patients, and overworked staff all contribute to the ease with which diseases can spread. 

Anyone who is suffering from a contagious disease – respiratory or gastrointestinal – has no business visiting a hospital, except in case of a dire emergency. Hospital staff, especially, should avoid coming to work when ill. Face masks and hand washing can only go so far to contain an illness outbreak. The patients must come first.

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