Virus outbreaks reported at care facilities

Norwalk-like illness hits Balto. Co. nursing homes

January 15, 2003|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

Between 10 and 12 outbreaks of a Norwalk-like virus have been reported at nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Baltimore County since last month, prompting health care providers to isolate some patients and restrict visitors, county health officials said yesterday.

The number of outbreaks of the virus is slightly higher this season than last, said Gary Thompson, a supervisor and outbreak coordinator for the county Health Department. He said the virus occurs every year, generally from December to March, but is more noticeable in facilities such as nursing homes where people are clustered.

Residents of nursing homes and retirement communities have to be watched carefully when infected with the virus because they can become dehydrated quickly, said Karen Scott, a spokeswoman for the county Health Department.

"This is not a crisis," she said.

The virus has sickened residents at the Glen Meadows Retirement Community in Glen Arm and at Edenwald and Brighton Gardens, both in Towson, as well as other county nursing and retirement homes, county Health Department and nursing home officials said. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps and sometimes headaches and fever and last between 24 and 48 hours, they said.

Some retirement communities posted signs at entrances warning people of the virus, but they said no quarantine was necessary.

At Glen Meadows, 18 of the 320 residents suffered from the virus, said Executive Director Charles Brown.

"We canceled communal activities and delivered meals to the residents," Brown said. "We kept the patients inside their rooms and limited visitors."

Brown said the facility was cleaned and staff and residents were reminded to wash their hands thoroughly to help keep the virus from spreading.

"We caught it and dealt with it," he said. "We hope to get back to normal shortly."

About a quarter of the residents at the Edenwald retirement community in Towson also suffered from a gastrointestinal illness last month, according to Jim Halbert, Edenwald's vice president. He said seven residents in the assisted-living facility and 17 residents of the nursing home were infected.

"It was a garden-variety illness that hit quickly and left promptly after a few days," he said. "We have no idea how it got started here."

The Health Department considers the cases an outbreak if more than three people or 3 percent of the population in a facility come down with the virus. Thompson said the outbreak is over when no new cases are reported after four days.

Similar gastrointestinal illnesses struck more than 1,200 passengers and crew members on board eight cruise ships last year, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The CDC reported that the number of outbreaks on board ships was triple that of the previous year. Several of the ships were taken out of commission for a week to be disinfected.

A report from the CDC stated that the illness, known as Norwalk-like or norovirus, affects about 23 million people nationwide each year.

A spokesman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said 183 cases of a Norwalk-like virus have been reported in Baltimore County this year. Last month, the number of county cases was 121.

Statewide, 467 cases of the virus have been reported this year. Last year, 3,109 cases were reported.

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