Let’s face it: the words norovirus gastroenteritis and influenza send chills down any strong spine. And these common seasonal illnesses are starting to disrupt the holiday season. The Virginia Department of Health tracks daily data received from emergency departments and urgent care sites, and indications are that for the week ending December 7, 2013, 11.3 percent of emergency department and urgent care clinics were attributed to the GI illness syndrome. To add bitterness to this already-acrid pool of information, during the first week in December three suspected outbreaks of norovirus were noted; this is in comparison to four during the entire month of November.
Norovirus is easily transmittable, particularly in settings such as schools, daycare centers, assisted living facilities, and long-term care facilities. You can help limit the spread of this illness by asking those who may be infected to stay at home until vomiting and diarrhea have completely ended. Good hand hygiene and maintaining sterile conditions of contaminated areas are important strategies. Also, it is not too late to get your annual influenza vaccine and to implement these prevention techniques. Check out Virginia’s comprehensive influenza website at http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/flu/.