'Tis the season for flu, stomach viruses
By Jason Stuart
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
Trees have lost their leaves, temperatures are dropping and winter is definitely coming, and with that change in the seasons comes another unwelcome annual event — the onset of cold and flu season.
Reports began popping up on local social media pages late last week of quite a few locals coming down with a norovirus, which causes gastroenteritis — commonly called the “stomach flu” — which can leave its victims with debilitating bouts of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Dawson County Health Department director Timber Dempewolf said she has heard of those reports, but noted that unlike influenza, the health department does not track norovirus outbreaks unless it fells a whole group of people in a single public setting like a nursing home or school.
“For us, that’s not a reportable disease, unless they’re in a group setting,” Dempewolf said of tracking norovirus outbreaks.
That being said, she noted that it’s no big surprise that a norovirus would be making its way around town right now, as like the flu, outbreaks of it tend to go with the seasons.
“It’s that time of year,” Dempewolf said. “It starts getting colder, so we congregate more inside, so you have more exposure.”
Dempewolf did provide a fact sheet with a few facts and tips about dealing with a norovirus outbreak and preventing infection.
The virus is highly contagious and can spread quickly. It is most commonly transmitted by eating or drinking contaminated foods or liquids, touching a contaminated surface, or having direct contact with an infected person. That last point is why the norovirus can quickly infect entire households. Those infected are contagious from the time they start feeling sick up to a few days after they recover.
The best way to prevent contracting the norovirus is through careful hygiene, Dempewolf noted, first and foremost by frequently washing your hands, especially after using the bathroom or before eating and preparing food. Besides rigorous hand washing, the fact sheet Dempewolf provided offered these other tips for preventing the spread of the norovirus:
• Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before cooking. Keep uncooked meat, seafood and poultry separate from fruits and vegetables, and cook food thoroughly.
• Do not prepare food or care for others if you are sick, and keep sick people out of areas where food is prepared.
• Clean and disinfect potentially contaminated surfaces with a chlorine bleach solution (from 5 to 25 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water) and immediately wash clothes or linens that may be contaminated. Handle the items carefully, wearing rubber or disposable gloves, and wash your hands immediately afterwards.
Beyond those tips, Dempewolf also stressed that if you feel sick, do everyone else a favor and stay home.
“That’s what we ask,” she said. “Please stay home if you’re sick. We don’t want to see you.”
While a norovirus may have reared its head in the Glendive area, standard influenza has not yet made it to here yet, with no reported cases in Dawson County so far.
The Montana Department of Health and Human Services began monitoring for flu outbreaks on Oct. 1. Dempewolf noted that in Montana, the flu typically moves across the state from west to east, and so she said it’s really too early for the flu to have reached here yet.
“We haven’t had any, not yet. It’s coming though,” she said. “I would expect probably the end of December, the beginning of January (Dawson County will see its first flu case).”
To date, there have been 44 confirmed cases of flu in Montana, with 15 counties reporting at least one case. Nearly half of all the state’s cases are in the Great Falls and Missoula areas, with 10 cases in Cascade County and nine in Missoula County. The closest counties to Dawson to have flu cases reported so far are Yellowstone County and Fergus County.
Dempewolf added that to date, this year’s flu bug has not shown any mutation and the available flu vaccine appears to be effective in preventing contraction of the virus.
“So far no (the flu virus has not mutated), and the cases that have been reported in the state, those individuals were not vaccinated,” she said.
Reach Jason Stuart at email@example.com.