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Officials warn about norovirus

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Local health officials say a recent bout of norovirus associated with a local restaurant has ended but are warning residents to watch for other incidents of norovirus contagion in the coming days.

Clinical testing has identified norovirus as the agent responsible for the outbreak of gastrointestinal illness in the last few days of October affecting patrons at El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant at 1296 N. Wesleyan Blvd., according to a press release by the Nash County Heath Department.

“Staff at the health department responded to the complaints immediately after the first report on Oct. 30,” Nash County Health Director Bill Hill said in a press release.

Health Department officials emphasize that the restaurant has been cleared regarding the outbreak.

“The restaurant has worked closely with Environmental Health staff during the investigation and no improper food handling practices were found on the restaurant’s part. Clinical staff at the health department interviewed over 80 patrons and coordinated testing through the State Laboratory of Public Health. Various data sources indicate that patrons who became sick ate at the restaurant beginning on Oct. 25. Transmission of the virus at the restaurant is believed to have ended by Oct. 31,” the release said.

Norovirus is the most common cause of gastrointestinal illnesses in the United States, health officials said.

Symptoms of norovirus include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping. Some people may have fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a general sense of tiredness. The symptoms can begin suddenly and escalate quickly.

In most people, the illness lasts for about one or two days but can remain contagious for several days, the release said. People with the illness are contagious from the moment they begin feeling sick until at least three days after they recover.

Infection can be more severe in young children and elderly people. Dehydration can occur rapidly and may require medical treatment or hospitalization. People should contact their doctor or seek treatment if their symptoms are severe or last more than a few days, officials warn.

“Norovirus infection spreads quickly in the community, but especially in crowded places such as long-term care facilities, schools and child care centers. Noroviruses are easily transmitted by touching a contaminated surface as well as by direct contact or by eating or drinking items that have been contaminated with the virus,” said Larissa R. Mills, coordinator of health services at the Nash County Health Department.

Noroviruses are notoriously difficult to kill with normal cleaning procedures. Surfaces that have been contaminated should be cleaned immediately and disinfected with a freshly prepared diluted bleach solution — about a 1:10 ratio of bleach to water — or a bleach-based household cleaner, Mills said.

There is no vaccine or specific treatment for norovirus. The best way to prevent illness is to practice proper hand-washing, especially after using the restroom, changing diapers, before eating and preparing food and when caring for a sick person. People should wash their hands with soap and water as hand sanitizers are not very effective against the virus, the press release said.

“Anyone with norovirus-like symptoms should stay hydrated and remain at home until all symptoms are gone to prevent infecting others — especially if employed in a food, child care or patient care position,” Mills said.

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