WESTLOCK - More than 100 residents and staff at the Westlock Continuing Care Centre have been dealing with cases of norovirus since an outbreak was declared at the facility Nov. 24.
The illness is highly contagious and prone to affect those living in close quarters, in fact eight of the nine outbreaks of norovirus in the north zone in 2019 occurred in similar continuing care facilities, the other was traced back to a food establishment.
Norovirus is characterized by bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, along with stomach pains, fevers and headaches and can lead to severe dehydration. There is no vaccine or specific treatment to fight the virus.
Dr. Kathryn Koliaska, a medical health officer in Alberta Health Services’ north zone, which includes Westlock, recommends plenty of bed rest and washing your hands and cleaning surfaces as often as possible as a form of prevention.
Norovirus can be spread through the air though, which makes it especially difficult to contain an outbreak.
“We do have very, very detailed processes and protocols to follow,” said Koliaska. “If there is something circulating, we identify it quickly and try to stop the transmission. Having said that, the virus is very, very efficient and that’s certainly the situation we have in Westlock Continuing Care.”
Those who are diagnosed are separated from others in their rooms and any unnecessary group activities are cancelled. Caregivers and visitors are also instructed to take preventative precautions by washing their hands and wearing gloves and a mask.
Koliaska explained that while norovirus is often called the stomach flu, it is not actually a flu at all. Influenza is more of a respiratory illness that affects the lungs and includes symptoms like high fever, runny nose, coughing and muscle aches and pains.
“Throwing up and diarrhea is really awful, but influenza, which is a fever and cough, people die from it more,” she said, adding it’s important for everyone, especially the most vulnerable, the young and the old, to get their flu shot every fall.
“The flu shot does nothing to protect against norovirus though.”
In this particular outbreak, 105 residents and staff have reported falling ill since Nov. 24. There are 355 total residents and staff at the facility.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s important work, and jumping on it really fast helps get it back under control,” said Koliaska. “It’s very much about breaking that cycle of transmission.”
Being in public health, Dr. Koliaska also wanted to encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly and stay home if you’re sick. While visitors are still allowed at the facility, she also encourages anyone who is showing symptoms of norovirus or influenza to delay their visit to the Continuing Care Centre.