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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Area dealing with a breakout of illnesses

By Kyle Vuille

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

In recent weeks, Glendive has seen a spike in both cold and flu-like illnesses as well as gastrointestinal illnesses resulting in nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. These ailments have been evident and apparent in the local school system and workplace.

A Dawson County Health Department press release dated Dec. 15 stated a possible explanation for the higher than average absenteeism  is influenza season has come earlier this year compared to previous years. The press release said there were seven confirmed influenza cases in Dawson County as of Dec. 9. The press release went on to say however, this number may be higher.

“Some in our community may have influenza, but have not seen a doctor and been diagnosed,” said DCHD Director Timber Dempewolf. “This is always a possibility that more cases exist than we know about.”

As of last week, The Eastern Montana Veteran’s Home has asked the community not to come to the facility because of the recent spike in respiratory illnesses, which would include influenza.

Christy Kemp, the administator at the EMVH, said it was almost two weeks since the first resident became ill.

Kemp said there have been 30 EMVH resident with respiratory symptoms and currently four residents with confirmed cases of influenza.

She added there are also 15 staff members showing respiratory symptoms and the facility has been cautious about letting anyone in, including volunteers.

“We’ve asked people not to come unless they have to be here,” Kemp said.

Kemp added the EMVH is evaluating the status of the outbreak daily and working with the health department to determine any precautions that should be taken in action as the situation changes daily.

Kemp also has asked the public to call for the current update if there are any concerns from the community.

Older adults, such as those at the EMVH, are one ofthe four groups who are more prone to further complications like pneumonia after contracting influenza.

The health department did not include exact numbers of  recent student absentees, but it said the numbers are higher than in previous years.

Another explanation for the higher trend of school and work absenteeism, according to the health department, may be gastrointestinal illnesses which are common during the winter months. Gastrointestinal illnesses are typically referred to as “the stomach flu.”

The symptoms of the stomach flu are not generally the same as the symptoms of influenza. Symptoms of a “GI” or stomach flu are nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

“It’s difficult to gauge exactly how many local individuals have recently contracted a GI illness,” Dempewolf said. “These illnesses usually do not last longer than one or two days, and people don’t often see a doctor for an official diagnosis.”

The health department press release stated that a number of viruses and bacteria can have a hand in GI illnesses. It said the most common is norovirus. Norovirus can spread in multiple fashions. It can be spread by being in contact with contaminated food, water or objects as well as being in close contact with someone who is ill. Touching surfaces or objects that have been exposed to norovirus and then putting your hand to your mouth is another common way of contracting the illness. 

Contracting the virus can be prevented by using good hand hygiene, limiting contact with those who are sick and cleaning and disinfecting contaminated areas. Other precautions include washing laundry thoroughly, preparing food carefully and avoiding preparing food while symptomatic, according to the press release.

“With any of these illnesses, respiratory or GI, it’s important that people stay home when they are sick,” Dempewolf said. “It is hard to miss school or work, but by attending while ill, people are unintentionally spreading sickness to others.”

The press release added both influenza and GI illnesses can be treated with rest and fluids.

Call the health department at 377-5213 with questions or concerns about influenza or gastrointestinal illnesses. Flu shots are available upstairs at the Dawson County Courthouse where the health department is located. Regular immunization hours are Thursday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. as well as 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Reach Kyle Vuille at

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