Maui nursing homes report viral outbreak


POSTED: Sunday, March 08, 2009

Two nursing care facilities on Maui have reported a large norovirus outbreak over the last couple of weeks, a state officials said.




Good hygiene helps combat germs' spread

        The norovirus, also known as the “;Norwalk virus,”; is named after an acute gastroenteritis outbreak among children at an elementary school in Norwalk, Ohio. It is highly contagious.

Symptoms including vomiting and diarrhea usually begin about 24 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus. Patients should drink plenty of fluids, preferably sports drinks, to reduce the risk of dehydration.




Here are some tips to avoid catching the norovirus:

        » Frequently wash hands, especially after going to the bathroom, changing diapers and before preparing or eating food.

        » After washing hands, use paper towels to turn off bathroom faucets and to open bathroom doors.

        » Carefully wash fruits and vegetables. Steam oysters before consumption.

        Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Maui district health administrator Dr. Lorrin Pang



Eighty norovirus cases were reported at the Hale Makua facilities located in Wailuku and Kahului, said Maui district health administrator Dr. Lorrin Pang.

Health officials are especially worried about outbreaks among elderly patients, who can more easily get dehydrated, possibly tear their esophagus with severe vomiting or get an infection, Pang said.

There have been no deaths associated with the current outbreak and Hale Makua is taking steps to control it, including requiring visitors, as well as staff, to wash their hands, Pang said.

He said he received a report of the outbreak at both facilities in mid-February. Initially, about a dozen patients and residential staff members were affected. The figure then increased to 80 patients and staff members, representing 20 percent of the patient and staff population. Both facilities share the same janitorial and nursing staff.

The outbreak has leveled off within the last week, said Pang yesterday.

While the virus was first observed by physicians three decades ago, Pang warned that it is becoming more aggressive and can be easily spread through contact with contaminated doorknobs, bathroom faucets and towels. “;It's getting to be bigger and bigger and a little more worrisome,”; he said.

The outbreak at Hale Makua is reflective of the increasing cases worldwide, he said.

The highly contagious virus causes gastroenteritis or the “;stomach flu,”; with symptoms that include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. Symptoms usually last for a couple of days. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people can become infected by consuming contaminated food and liquids; touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then placing their hand in their mouth; and having direct contact with another person who is infected and showing symptoms.

Cold weather is a factor in the spread of the virus. During winter, the virus can live up to three weeks; in summer it dies after a couple of days.

In a separate case, 60 absences were recorded last Tuesday at Pomaikai Elementary School in Kahului. Pang suspects the norovirus was the reason for the absences, but that has yet to be confirmed.