Virus Keeps LTCU Visitors Out

The Providence St. Joseph’s Hospital Long-Term Care Unit has been closed to the regular public since the beginning of February do to a stomach flu virus that spread fast through the facility.

As of Feb. 7, 2013, the Northeast Tri County Health District (NETCHD) reported that 84 percent of patients, and some staff, had developed symptoms consistent with the Norovirus 2, a fast-moving and highly contagious viral infection lasting around 48 hours.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the norovirus is spread primarily through person-to-person contact, and young children, the elderly and hospitalized are more susceptible. Outbreaks occur most often in the winter season and in healthcare facilities.

The LTCU outbreak resulted in restricting visitation at the facility, requiring all visitors to wear a gown and mask after thorough communication of the situation to limit transmission of the virus. The number of family members and how often they visited was also limited.

“Considering the highly infectious nature of norovirus, exclusion and isolation of infected persons are often the most practical means of interrupting transmission of virus and limiting contamination of the environment,” reports www.cdc.gov.

The LTCU is anticipated to reopen for regular visitation hours after one week where no additional cases are reported and staff has performed a deep cleaning of the facility. The last diagnosis was made Monday, Feb. 26, said Joe Robb, public relations director for Providence Health Care.

Also, no deaths at the LTCU have been directly related to this recent outbreak, Robb said.

The percent of patients who exhibited symptoms speaks to how highly contagious it really is, said Matt Schanz, environmental health director for the NETCHD. It is especially hard to contain in group-living environments, he said.

“The staff did a tremendous job in responding to the outbreak,” Shanz said.

The Norovirus is always circulating, he said, changing strain every few years so that some people lose their immunity. Schanz said good personal hygiene and handwashing practices are the best ways to prevent the virus.

According to the CDC, proper handwashing involves washing with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds, noting that hand sanitizers are effective between handwashings but should not be used as a substitute.

By Kellie Trudeau, The Independent Staff