Summer Brings Tourists and
Potential for Norovirus encourages
agency coordination and lots of handwashing
May 23, 2005
With many cruise ships expected
in Ketchikan and other Alaska communities throughout the summer,
as well as thousands of other tourists arriving in Alaska by
plane and automobile, the potential is high that we will see
cases of Norovirus and other infectious diseases this summer
according to the Alaska Department of Health & Social Services.
Norovirus may be found at low levels throughout the year in some
communities, however, the massive movement of people during the
summer season makes it more likely to see a sudden outbreak.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Division
of Public Health, is coordinating with the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) and other local, state and federal
agencies to help ensure our communities are safe and healthy.
State Public Health Nurses are available in most communities
to advise local business owners and tourism industry workers
on the proper precautions to take to help prevent the spread
of infectious diseases like Norovirus. The state also coordinates
with the U.S. Coast Guard, the State Emergency Coordination Center,
Alaska State Troopers, in addition to local health care facilities
and emergency workers in case additional assistance is needed
caring for or transporting sick individuals to health care facilities.
"Good hand washing is the most important step for every
individual to protect against Norovirus and other infectious
diseases," said DHSS Public Health Director Richard Mandsager,
M.D. "I encourage every individual to wash hands regularly
and frequently. We want tourists to enjoy their visit to Alaska."
Noroviruses are a group of
viruses that cause the "stomach flu," or gastroenteritis.
Norovirus is a common cause of gastrointestinal illness worldwide.
The most common symptoms are nausea with vomiting, diarrhea,
and cramps. These symptoms occur in all age groups although diarrhea
is more common among adults and vomiting is more common in children.
Many persons also experience headache, fever, chills and muscle
aches. The symptoms may appear from 12-72 hours after exposure
to the virus, but usually within 24 to 48 hours.
Noroviruses are predominately spread from person-to-person and
some medical reports suggest that the virus can spread through
the air during vomiting. Noroviruses are also spread easily by
eating food or drinking water contaminated with feces from an
infected person. Less common food-associated outbreaks have been
linked to cold prepared, ready to eat foods (e.g., salads, coleslaw,
sandwiches) and shellfish harvested in contaminated water. Some
outbreaks have also been associated with drinking water and recreational
water (e.g., swimming ponds, and beaches).
There is no treatment for Norovirus. Most people recover in two
to three days after they become ill. Supportive treatment to
prevent dehydration may be needed in severe cases.
Thorough hand washing following toilet use and prior to handling
food is the best way to prevent the spread of these viruses.
Persons currently ill with diarrhea or vomiting should not handle
food, work in day care centers or care for patients in a health
care facility until these symptoms have stopped.
"Alaskans like to travel, too, and when they become tourists
in other places, they should protect themselves and their hosts
by using good handwashing precautions," said Mandsager.
On the Web:
A Norovirus Prevention Packet is available
for download from the Division of Public Health Epidemiology
Web site. The packet
contains a fact sheet, poster, and information about sanitizing
for the public or business owners.
Additional information on Norovirus
can be found on the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site
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