Nasty stomach virus lands in Gainesville; elderly, kids most at risk


"Wash your hands," Health Department administrator Paul Myers said. "Hand sanitizer can be effective, but it's not as good as warm water and soap."

The Ledger / File
Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 2:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 4:23 p.m.

The nation has been battling a new strain of the norovirus stomach bug — and it has reached Gainesville.

Last week, an outbreak of the virus at the Atrium at Gainesville Independent Senior Living Community caused the facility to keep all residents inside their rooms, with food brought to them.

"We've had pockets since October, and we are trending with the rest of the nation," said Nadia Kovacevich, an epidemiologist at the Alachua County Health Department. "It's very feisty. It can live on surfaces unless they are properly disinfected. It takes just one person."

The symptoms are consistent: vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps and, in some cases, fever and chills.

At the Atrium, about eight residents got sick, said Lenny Fries, the center's manager. "Our policy is when the last person gets sick, you wait 48-72 hours," he said. "You can't have people congregate because it can be passed, and for a senior if you get it, it makes you very sick."

The last person got sick on Saturday, and by Tuesday, the facility had resumed group activities and reopened the dining room.

Elsewhere in Gainesville, the virus has emerged sporadically, but cases similar to the outbreak at the Atrium haven't been reported to the Alachua County Health Department. That doesn't necessarily mean other cases aren't out there, Kovacevich said.

"By the time someone hears about it, 50-60 percent of the population has already been dealing with it," she added.

New Australian strain

The new strain of norovirus is from Australia and has been dubbed the Sydney strain. It has been identified in Florida, but not confirmed in Gainesville by laboratory samples, Kovacevich said.

However, peoples' symptoms here match those of people throughout the state, in places where the Sydney strain has been confirmed.

"Everything points to the norovirus," said Paul Myers, administrator of the county Health Department.

"Of course, with something like this, you always err on the side of caution," Kovacevich added, explaining that you "blanket" an infected community as the Atrium did. Apart from isolating residents from each other, they sterilized the entire facility.

"They've been doing best practices. I've been very impressed," she said.

The virus is spread through feces and vomit, so practicing good hygiene in the bathroom is critical, Myers said.

"Wash your hands," Myers said. "Hand sanitizer can be effective, but it's not as good as warm water and soap."

He also advised caution when going out to eat, especially at salad bars, since infected employees working with food can easily transmit the virus.

Small children and seniors are especially at risk, Myers said, along with large groups of people living within close proximity of each other.

Although the norovirus has mostly been a wintertime virus, Myers said it can strike anytime.

"Last year, we had an influenza outbreak in the middle of the summer," he said. "Given all the international travel that we have, you may have someone (with the virus) come in summer from South America, where it's the middle of winter.

"Wash your hands, stay home when you're ill, and practice good hygiene," he said.

There is no specific medicine to treat people with norovirus illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Norovirus infection cannot be treated with antibiotics because it is a viral (not a bacterial) infection.

If you have norovirus illness, you should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluid lost from throwing up and diarrhea. This will help prevent dehydration, the CDC said.

Sports drinks and other drinks without caffeine or alcohol can help with mild dehydration. But, these drinks may not replace important nutrients and minerals. Oral rehydration fluids that you can get over the counter are most helpful for mild dehydration.

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top