Public reminded of importance of controlling illnesses

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Full visitation restored at Prairie Pioneers Lodge

Norovirus outbreak ends but precautions needed to prevent spread of illness

Despite the conclusion of a Norovirus outbreak at Swift Current's Prairie Pioneers Lodge, Cypress Health Region officials are still reminding the public of the importance of preventing the spread of illness to others.

Norovirus resulted in an outbreak status being issued at the long term care facility from Feb. 27 to March 7, with the outbreak impacting both residents and staff. And while full visitation was restored on Monday, health officials are asking the public to be diligent in helping to control the spread of other viruses and illnesses that are prevalent across the province.

Throughout Saskatchewan, public health officials are continuing to witness both respiratory and gastro-intestinal illness activity in communities.

Dr. David Torr, Consulting Medical Health Officer for the Cypress Health Region, reminds that everyone must play a role to keep the transfer of these illnesses at a low rate.

“Although the month of March is upon us, we are still seeing increased community activity for Norovirus illness, enteric illness, and a variety of other respiratory-related diseases,” said Dr. Torr. “It is absolutely critical that everyone pay attention to practicing good hygiene and infection control techniques, especially frequent handwashing, to reduce the chance of illness spread to others.”

Dr. Torr added that you do not have to feel ill in order to be carrying a virus or illness, and thus have the opportunity to pass it along to others.

“So frequent handwashing, covering your coughs and sneezes with the crook of your arm, and staying home if you are starting to feel the effects of illness are all critically important to remember. These common sense approaches will help to prevent passing your illness to other family members or friends.”

There are a number of terms used to help identify the variety of illnesses and viruses, and several are provided below for information. Due to the similarity of their signs and symptoms, they are easily confused for one another.

• Gastroenteritis, often shortened to ‘Gastro’ and incorrectly referred to by many as the ‘stomach flu’, refers to an inflammation of the stomach or either of the small and large intestines. Many different viruses can cause gastroenteritis including rotaviruses, noroviruses, and enteroviruses. Signs and symptoms of Gastro including diarrhea, vomiting, headache, fever, and abdominal cramps. Symptoms usually begin one to two days following infection with a virus that causes Gastro and may last for one to 10 days depending on which virus is causing the illness.

• Norovirus (related to Norwalk-like virus) – virus that commonly cause diarrheal illness or Gastro in people, and is more common in winter. This type of virus is present in the stool and vomit of infected people, and are contagious from the moment they begin to feel ill to at least three to four days after recovery. The virus must be swallowed to cause infection and illness. It can be spread via person-to-person contact if hands are not washed, drinking/eating contaminated water and food, contact with contaminated surfaces (doorknobs, hand railings, taps), or via droplet contaminated with vomit. Signs and symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and low grade fever.

• Influenza virus, on the other hand, is a contagious respiratory illness commonly known as the flu. Influenza can be contracted by anyone, but can be more severe in some groups of people like the very young, the very old, and those who are immunocompromised. Signs and symptoms include the sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough/sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, stomach symptoms, and muscle aches. The flu is spread by droplets from coughing or sneezing, contact with hard surfaces that are contaminated with the virus on it, and person to person contact.

Both gastro and respiratory illnesses are contagious and can be easily spread from person to person. It is important, therefore, for the public to take infection control precautions to avoid contracting illness themselves or spreading it to others. These measures include the above-mentioned but also regular/frequent cleaning of household surfaces to assist in removing any viruses present.

For more information about these viruses and illnesses, you are encouraged to speak to your family primary care provider (physician, nurse practitioner) or a member of the health region’s Public Health team. The health region’s website (www.cypresshealth.ca) can be visited for fact sheets on the illnesses and additional sources of information that can be viewed.

Organizations: Cypress Health Region

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Swift Current

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