Northern Health advises people to wash their hands regularly and take other steps to avoid Norovirus—a highly contagious winter bug that often causes vomiting and diarrhea.

Norovirus hits northern B.C.

An outbreak of Norovirus in northern B.C. has health officials warning people to stay home and avoid close contact if they catch the bug.

An outbreak of gastrointestinal illness has public health officials warning people in northern B.C. to stay home and avoid close contact if they catch the bug.

Norovirus is the most likely cause of the outbreak. Symptoms include sudden nausea, chills, abdominal cramps, vomiting and/or diarrhea.

Public health officials first noticed the outbreak when more than 10 per cent of students at Houston’s Silverthorne Elementary and two other northern schools suddenly stayed home sick last week.

“When we did a bit more follow-up, in this case we found out that the kids were mostly away with vomiting and diarrhea—not a cough and aches and pains like influenza,” said Dr. Bowering.

Health officials have been working with those schools to teach students about hand-washing and other ways to stay healthy.

Norovirus is highly contagious and tends to spread quickly through schools, hospitals and residential care homes.

Northern Health is already monitoring outbreaks at the Bulkley Valley Lodge in Smithers and at another elderly care home in Haida Gwaii.

Such outbreaks are a shame, said Dr. Bowering, because it means residents at those homes can’t visit with friends or family “and that’s the last thing an elderly person needs or wants.”

The worst thing about Norovirus is how contagious it is.

“It only takes a couple of virus particles, and those virus particles lurk on unclean surfaces and spread from hand to hand very easily,” said Dr. Bowering.

If there is any good side to the bug, he added, it’s that people generally feel sick for less than a day or two.

But that can be a problem, too.

Even if you feel better, Dr. Bowering said it’s best to avoid close contact with people for another two days. That’s about how long people continue to excrete the virus.

Outbreaks of Norovirus have been common across Europe for about a decade, and for a few years less in North America. The virus generally strikes in winter and is known in Europe as “winter vomiting disease.”

 

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