Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Norovirus Loves New Zealand – And Other Places, Too

If I didn't know better, I'd think that Norovirus had a special affinity for New Zealand – especially for the country's hospitals. 

Dunedin Hospital, the scene of a major Norovirus outbreak last August, has just been hit with another outbreak of gastroenteritis. Five patients and one staff member have been stricken with what is believed to be an infection with Norovirus, forcing the closure of orthopedic surgery ward. Some surgeries have been postponed. Although it will take a few days before lab tests confirm that Norovirus is the culprit, hospital staff and administrators aren't taking any chances.

Hutt Hospital, also, has been working to contain a suspected Norovirus outbreak. Seven patients in two adjacent medical wards were isolated after suffering from vomiting and diarrhea. Lab results are expected tomorrow, and the outbreak appears to have been contained.

In additional to these hospital outbreaks, the hospital section of St. Andrew's Village retirement home in Auckland was struck by a Norovirus outbreak that killed two elderly patients; nearly 20 patients and several staff members were infected by the virus and suffered typical symptoms of gastroenteritis. The two elderly patients were already ill when they became infected, and probably succumbed to the dehydration and debilitation that resulted from their symptoms. 

New Zealand's Norovirus outbreaks aren't limited to hospitals and retirement homes. Recently, the virus has been responsible for an outbreak of gastroenteritis linked to contaminated raw oysters, and fifteen students at Lincoln University (Canterbury) fell ill just in time to avoid sitting exams.

Norovirus, however, hasn't limited its activities to New Zealand. This month alone, outbreaks of gastroenteritis due to this virus have been reported in Australia (Shepparton's public hospital), Ireland (Ennis General Hospital in Co. Clare), the UK (Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester, and the Alex Hospital in Redditch) and the United States (Denison University in Granville, OH).

Norovirus is a highly infectious and very durable virus. The best way to contain an outbreak is confinement, cleaning and decontamination. The best way to prevent an outbreak – especially in a hospital setting or where large numbers of people congregate – is scrupulous attention to sanitation, safe food handling, and personal hygiene.

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