EXCLUSIVE: State health officials monitoring outbreak of possible norovirus

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: Jan 10 2013 05:42:00 PM HST

A serious health outbreak sweeping across Hawaii health care facilities.

HONOLULU -

Wahiawa General Hospital officials hope the worst is over after an illness spread at an alarming rate over the weekend and into Monday.

The hospital said the outbreak affected 26 patients and six staff, but it was primarily  to the first floor of its long-term care unit.

"Sunday we had 15 new patients, who were exhibiting symptoms and we had four on Tuesday, four on Wednesday and one on Thursday," said Don Olden, CEO of Wahiawa General Hospital.

Workers scrambled to move patients into isolation and then started an intense process of disinfecting the whole wing.

Olden said the hospital has not found a common thread yet.

"We are worried about the flu, but we are actually more worried about the norovirus infection."

State Health Department Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Sarah Park.

It was concerned because the long term facility is connected to the main hospital by hallways.

"We limit the staff movement, so the staff are not moving between the skilled nursing and the acute hospital," said Olden.

Officials suspect the problem is a norovirus, a gastrointestinal bug that is also called "the cruise ship virus."

It causes severe vomiting and diarrhea and can be airborne and foodborne.

And in outbreaks in places like care homes and long-term care facilities, the health department must be notified.

"While norovirus may not usually cause deaths or serious complications, in this particular population, the elderly population, they are more at risk at the complications related to dehydration," said state health department  infectious disease specialist Dr. Sarah Park.

Park said while most places on the mainland are currently wrestling with a flu outbreak, that is not the case here in Hawaii right now.

"We are worried about the flu, but we are actually more worried about the norovirus infection,” said Park.

The best advice to avoid getting sick, or spreading the disease is much like the flu.

"Washing hands, and if you are sick, especially if you are sick with this virus stay home," said Park.

So far, health officials said the different outbreaks at the half-dozen facilities across the state, do not appear to  be linked to the same strain of the virus.

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