HELENA, Mont. -

The following is a news release from the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

An unusually high number of outbreaks of gastroenteritis, commonly referred to as the ‘stomach flu’, have been reported to state and local public health authorities.

According to the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), since the beginning of this year, 20 outbreaks have sickened nearly 500 people throughout the state, more than twice the number of outbreaks usually reported by this time of the year.  Many of the outbreaks have been reported in assisted living and nursing homes, residents who are often the most at risk of complications from this infection.

Noroviruses are the most common of the viruses that cause gastroenteritis. The usual symptoms of gastroenteritis include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. There is no specific treatment for this illness and most individuals recover in 1 to 3 days. The illness can last longer and be more severe in young children, older people, or people who have other health conditions.

The virus is highly contagious and can spread rapidly. A person can become ill by ingesting the virus from contaminated food or water or by close contact with someone who is ill. Touching surfaces or objects that are contaminated with norovirus, and then transferring the virus hand to mouth is another common way of becoming infected.

“Norovirus can spread very quickly and can make some people very ill,” DPHHS Director Richard Opper said. “To protect yourself and others it is important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water often, stay at home if you are ill with diarrhea, vomiting, or nausea, and never prepare food for others if you are sick with any of these symptoms.”

Tips to prevent the spread of norovirus:

·         Practice proper hand hygiene: Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not a substitute for washing with soap and water.

·         Take care in the kitchen: Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.

·         Do not prepare food while ill: People who are infected with norovirus should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for 3 days after they recover from their illness.

·         Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces: After an episode of illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces by using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label or a solution made by adding 5–25 tablespoons of household bleach to 1 gallon of water.

·         Wash laundry thoroughly: Immediately remove clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or fecal matter and wash with detergent at the maximum length available cycle, then machine dry. Handle soiled items carefully—without agitating them—to avoid spreading virus.

 

More information is available on the state health department website at:  S