Monday, August 18, 2008

New Zealand Norovirus Update

The news from Dunedin, New Zealand just keeps on getting worse.

I reported on Friday that Dunedin Hospital was forced to close some additional wards after the Norovirus outbreak had spread beyond the initial focus of infection. Now, the entire hospital has been effectively quarantined.

No one is allowed into the hospital except for personnel carrying valid identification and visitors who can demonstrate "exceptional circumstances." Casual visitors are denied entry. 

Most non-emergency hospital activities also have been curtailed. Elective surgeries, out-patient clinics and planned admissions all have been postponed, affecting some 800 people. Only the emergency department is continuing on a "business as usual" basis.

These drastic measures were triggered by a spread of the hospital's Norovirus outbreak to an additional 17 people over the weekend. The outbreak, as of this morning, has affected 57 patients and staff in several wards.

In the spirit of "misery loves company," New Zealanders should know that they are not alone. The Mona Vale Hospital in Manly, Australia also has been struggling to contain an outbreak of Norovirus gastroenteritis. The Manly Daily reported a week ago that at least 10 elderly patients had been quarantined, and wards on two floors closed, in an attempt to control the spread of the disease.

A common complaint from hospital staff running through the press reports on both outbreaks is one of stretched resources, cost-cutting, and the resulting inadequate attention to cleaning and sanitation. These conditions, combined with an immune-compromised population and uncontrolled visitor traffic, make Norovirus outbreaks difficult to prevent and even more difficult to contain.

Anyone planning to visit a hospital patient – in New Zealand, Australia or anywhere else – should take special pains to avoid carrying an infectious agent into the hospital. The last thing your ailing family member or friend needs is the gift of a respiratory or gastrointestinal illness. The rule of thumb should be "When in doubt, stay at home."

A hospital is no place for sick people!

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