Travis Co. health officials investigate norovirus outbreak - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Travis Co. health officials investigate norovirus outbreak

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There's a health alert in Travis County for an illness that's usually reported on cruise ships.

Norovirus is very contagious and causes a lot of stomach problems. Since mid-January, our local health department says they have investigated outbreaks at 12 long term care facilities.

In 2011 the Norovirus hit Ashwood Retirement and Assisted Living.

"You hit pretty much a peak that's where you have a lot more people with symptoms and then slowly you see the decline," Ashwood Retirement and Assisted Living Director of Operations, Meg Tesfaye said.

Looking back, they say it was a very difficult time.

"We began quarantine people in the room for two to three days or 24 hours free of symptoms. So we kept a log of how many new incidents we had on a daily basis," Tesfaye said.

But it was a learning experience for them and they haven't been affected since.

"Disinfecting, and washing hands and having hand sanitizers available on every floor, every station is a key to fight the norovirus," Tesfaye said.

The Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department has investigated 12 facilities around Travis County this past month. When in years past, that number was for an entire year.

"We're seeing these in long term care facilities, some elderly populations also like child care centers. so there's a more vulnerable population that are sometimes affected with this. With severe illness you can get dehydration and certainly can lead to other complications," Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department Medical Director Dr. Phil Huang said.

In a few of the outbreaks, half of the residents became ill. Some facilities have more than 100 residents. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping, which lasts for a few days.

An employee with Parkwood Meadows says they were under quarantine from January to February first. They've been fine the past three weeks.

"We've had a handful of people who have been hospitalized because of the dehydration and the severity of the symptoms," Dr. Jim Chudleigh of the Transitions Geriatrics Group said.

The virus can be spread by direct contact with a person who is sick or by eating food or drinks that have been contaminated.

Medical staff are also trained to handle the virus.

The Bell County Health Department also issued a health alert after seeing a spike in cases. Several facilities have been affected and emergency room visits have increased.

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