Care facility crafts plan to combat spread of norovirus

      EUGENE, Ore. - Norovirus hits the Pacific Northwest hard, and many of its victims are those in long term care facilities within the state.

      According to a report by the Oregon Public Health Division, there have been 714 outbreaks in the state's 607 nursing homes and long term care facilities since 2002.

      As a result, over 23,000 residents of these facilities got ill with norovirus.

      Avamere, which operates several homes throughout the region, established protocols and procedures for its employees and patients in response to a spike in norovirus cases in 2006.

      Deborah Nedelcove, the Vice President of Risk Management for the company, said that the number of visitors to nursing homes and the long term stay of most patients increase the likelihood that norovirus spreads.

      Avamere has implemented some rules for patients when the threat of norovirus exists, that drastically cut the number of cases it's seen

      "We'll ask them to refrain from activities, like card playing. Sometimes we'll ask them to take meals in their rooms. Instead of a pitcher of water, we may give them bottled water," Nedelcove said.

      Not only the elderly are susceptible to norovirus; anybody with a weakened immune system or simultaneously battling another illness is most vulnerable, including young children.

      The virus is especially rampant as the weather cools down and people spend more time inside.

      "Especially in Oregon and the Northwest, you have pretty harsh winters. People don't get out so they look for recreation indoors, their meals are indoors. Everything is indoors," says Jason Davis of Lane County Health and Human Services.

      According to the CDC, norovirus sickens between 19-21 million people annually, but less than 800 people die from the illness. When the illness is sereious, dehydration is the biggest risk.

      Hand sanitizer does not kill norovirus; health officials say you should wash hands vigorously and use bleach products to clean surfaces.

      Initial report

      CDC Norovirus Disease Widget

      CDC Norovirus Disease Widget.
      Flash Player 9 or above is required.

      EUGENE, Ore. - One of the largest operators of longterm care facilities in the region has a plan to combat outbreaks of a very contagious virus that causes stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

      After a spike in norovirus cases in 2006, Avamere began implementing procedures on how to limit its spread.

      When a case is suspected, residents may remain in their rooms during meals. They also limit the kinds of social activities, like card playing.

      That's important because norovirus spreads through contact with an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

      It strikes in nursing home via visitors who bring it to a population with already weakened immune systems.

      There is no good way to predict when another outbreak will occur, but generally, the illness is most prevalent from fall through early spring.

      There is no vaccine, and over 23,000 people have had the illness in Oregon since 2002.

      Luckily, it rarely leads to serious illness or death.

      More information on norovirus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention