Thousands of patients stricken with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea have visited emergency rooms during the last six weeks in a wave of gastrointestinal illness that has swept cities across North America.
“But the bottom line is we don’t really know why,” said Widdowson, who speculated that the virus circulating may be a different strain, one that is more easily transmitted or one that spawns more severe symptoms.
Large numbers of patients with stomach virus symptoms began showing up at Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre emergency room in early January, according to the hospital’s marketing coordinator Betsy DalSanto. She said about 20 percent of patients seen in the hospital’s emergency room over the last week were suffering from severe stomach virus.
“The emergency department will see the person and get them stable, but they are not doing diagnostic tests to confirm norovirus,” DalSanto said. She said she doesn’t believe the emergency room was instructed to test for norovirus.
While some patients suffering from the virus may be given fluids to treat dehydration, only the elderly, very young or those with other serious illnesses are hospitalized, DalSanto said.
The emergency room at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township has also seen a surge in patients with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps and low-grade fever, according to hospital spokeswoman Anne Green. She said over the last two weeks, the hospital has been treating between four to eight stomach virus patients per day, an unusually high number, but tests are not being done to determine whether they are suffering from the extremely contagious norovirus.
Norovirus typically strikes nursing homes, day care centers, hospitals and other group settings in the winter and cruise ships all year-round, according to the San Jose Mercury News. It can be transmitted through close contact with infected people or by eating contaminated food.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health, along with other state health departments, has begun tracking norovirus outbreaks at the request of the CDC. The department said the norovirus infection is a common cause of winter stomach flu and issued a list of precautions for Pennsylvania residents Friday morning. Spokesman Richard McGarvey said the department has not found any serious problems in the Wyoming Valley.
“Luzerne County didn’t have any large outbreaks, just scattered cases, and none of the big outbreaks that shut down particular areas,” McGarvey said.
A Hilton hotel outside Washington has been closed for a top-to-bottom scrubbing after 15 employees and more than 100 guests were sickened by the highly contagious norovirus, a hotel spokesman said Friday. Hotel officials first heard reports of sick guests Wednesday and contacted Fairfax County health authorities, said Jim Cree, the director of sales and marketing at the hotel near Dulles International Airport. Officials confirmed it was norovirus Thursday night, he said.
The current wave of outbreaks in the United States could be linked to a new strain of the virus discovered by European health officials, who first noted it striking cruise ships last spring. Twenty-eight cruise ship outbreaks were reported to the CDC in 2006, double the number in the previous year, according to the Mercury News.
The Queen Elizabeth 2 has become the first cruise ship in 2007 to suffer a serious outbreak of norovirus illness, with about 16 percent of passengers sickened since the ship left Southampton, England, on Jan. 2. Staff members from the CDC boarded the ship Friday when it docked in Acapulco, Mexico, to survey passengers and inspect cleaning procedures. As of Friday afternoon, 263 passengers and 27 crew members had shown signs of norovirus, according to the Kansas City Star.
Although there is no medicine to prevent or cure norovirus, the state Department of Health recommends people suffering from symptoms to drink plenty of fluids and stay home to avoid spreading the illness.
©The Citizens Voice 2007