Stomach viruses spread this winter

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – State officials say this has been a peak winter for gastrointestinal illness, with 41 outbreaks this year reported by schools, hospitals and nursing homes.

Many of those outbreaks involved the highly contagious norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea. At least 1,415 people at facilities that are required to report outbreaks have been diagnosed with norovirus infections since Dec. 1, according to state health records.

“In the community, that number has to be a lot bigger,” said state epidemiologist Jose Montero.

The number of outbreaks had been declining since hitting a peak of 33 in 2003, said Greg Moore, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

The number of people affected by this year’s outbreaks range from nearly 200 at a nursing home in Unity to a low of six at the Spaulding Youth Center in Laconia.

SunBridge Healthcare Corp. reported outbreaks at five of its seven senior facilities in New Hampshire this winter. Luanne Rogers, the company’s regional director, said the centers are taking safety precautions such as limiting visitation and closing new patient admissions.

Though the norovirus is not considered life threatening, infection is more serious for the chronically ill, young children or the frail elderly. It can spread through direct contact with an infected person or through the fecal contamination of food, surfaces or water, making hygiene key to prevention.

When Andrea Greenough’s 8-year-old daughter came down with a stomach bug last week, she kept it from spreading by washing linens in hot water and keeping the bathroom clean. Her daughter stayed in the living room, where others wouldn’t come in contact with her.

Other families haven’t been so fortunate. Michael Blanchette of Dover said the virus tore through his family on Christmas, spreading from one person to seven in 24 hours. Symptoms lingered for a week.

“I hardly every get sick, and usually it’s nothing, but this bug really hits you,” he said. “There’s not much you can do to get better besides let it run its course.”

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