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Illness Alert

Officials at Pitt County Memorial Hospital have an alert about a highly contagious stomach virus. They say it is spreading statewide and caution that practical steps are needed to prevent a local outbreak.

Here is this weekend's news release from Pitt County Memorial Hospital:

"GREENVILLE - First of all, we’re not in the middle of an outbreak.

Second, we do still need to take all possible steps to be prepared, should the current strain of norovirus become the problem it has in other communities across the state.

For that reason, Pitt County Memorial Hospital is asking people who are experiencing any symptoms of sickness, including gastrointestinal (GI) illness that may be due to norovirus, to not visit friends or loved ones at local health-care facilities until their own health has improved. This precaution is not only to help prevent the spread of illness to patients whose immune systems may be weakened, but also to protect health-care providers so they may continue to do their essential jobs.

“We want to keep our staff well, so they can take care of our patients,” said Mary Chatman, vice president of patient care services and interim chief nursing officer for PCMH.

Noroviruses produce gastroenteritis, or inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Illness typically comes on suddenly, naturally running its course in a day or two. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and some stomach cramping, but may in some people also produce low-grade fever, chills, headache, body aches and a general sense of fatigue.

“The norovirus is a winter virus,” said Dr. Clyde Brooks, chief quality officer for PCMH. “It’s not this mysterious new thing. It is a well-known GI bug.”

While illness from norovirus is often dubbed “stomach flu,” it isn’t the flu at all. Real flu is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus.

PCMH has not seen any dramatic rise in people reporting symptoms of gastroenteritis. However, several hospitals in the state have reported sharp increases, including one other University Health Systems facility. As a precaution, PCMH is asking for people who know they are sick with these or other symptoms of communicable illnesses to voluntarily curtail their visits to patients for the length of their illness.

Among those North Carolina hospitals to report gastroenteritis outbreaks, several have taken stricter measures to protect patients and staff - from not allowing children to visit patients to extensive disinfecting campaigns. When they occur, outbreaks are often swift but rarely lengthy.

While the many different strains of norovirus all are highly contagious, the strain now prevalent is particularly so: It can be transmitted not only through direct human contact and exposure to contaminated surfaces, but also by air. Limiting close contact with people and practicing thorough hand-washing after shaking hands or being in public places is the most useful precaution you can take. People who get norovirus can remain contagious for as long as two weeks after symptoms have disappeared.

Gastroenteritis due to norovirus is often physically debilitating, but is not considered life-threatening. Illness is typically treatable at home and rarely requires a hospital visit.

“The norovirus that is affecting other parts of North Carolina is extremely infectious,” confirmed Dr. John H. Morrow, director of the Pitt County Health Department. “Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be a serious illness, in terms of causing deaths, but it is causing a lot of misery for people.”

Some bacteria and parasites can produce similar symptoms, but as with all viral infections, noroviruses are not affected by treatment with antibiotics.

If you contract a norovirus, medical advice is simple: Drink plenty of fluids, since frequent diarrhea and vomiting can lead to dehydration, and get as much rest as you can. Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for body aches. If a person shows signs of dehydration or can’t keep fluids down - particularly if it is a child, or someone elderly or with an already weakened immune system - then medical attention should be sought.

Hospitals are not the only health-care facilities where people need to refrain from visiting patients if their own health is poor. Adult-care businesses such as nursing homes and assisted-living centers are also best avoided during that time, as are day-care centers, where limiting exposure to highly communicable illnesses is all but impossible.

For more information on norovirus, or other communicable diseases common this time of year, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention online at www.cdc.gov, and follow the “Diseases & Conditions” link."


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