ARCHBISHOP — Archbishop Norbert Wendelin Mtega was in Conrad last Tuesday to meet with city and county officials. He is the Archbishop of Songea, Tanzania, Africa. He has been a priest for 39 years and a bishop for 27 years. In a meeting with the commissioners he said, “I am trying to see the future” by coming to America. He traveled the 9,000 miles in part to visit a student of his, Father Hugo who is a priest at St. Michaels Catholic Church. He also noted he would like to see farmers from here go to Tanzania to teach farmers there. Pictured here, from the left in front are Commissioners Sandy Broesder and Joe Christiaens, Archbishop Mtega, Conrad Mayor Wendy Judisch, County Attorney MaryAnn Ries and Father Hugo. In the back are Pondera County Extension Agent Dan Picard and Pondera County Sheriff Tom Kuka. I-O Photo by Buck Traxler
While flu continues to be seen in the county, Pondera County Health Department reminds the public that severe gastrointestinal symptoms while often referred to as stomach flu is often not influenza at all.
Sometimes referred to as Winter Vomiting; Norwalk virus has recently been confirmed within the county.
Cynthia Grubb RN for Pondera County Health Department (PCHD) told the I-O on Wednesday, “People often think of sudden onset of nausea and vomiting as influenza when in fact; a norovirus or other food borne illness could be the culprit.”
Norwalk or ‘Noro’ virus accounts causes about 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach or intestines) and contributes to about 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths yearly and occurs most commonly in the winter months from November to April.
Recently an outbreak of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea followed a church gathering.
Because the numbers of sick following the event were far above that which could be expected normally even with known community occurrence, the health department initiated surveillance to detect a possible food borne illness.
“The illness turned out to be Norovirus,” noted Grubb. The virus which was suspected due to its incubation period and symptoms was confirmed by the Montana Public Health Lab from stool specimens submitted by a sampling of the ill individuals.
Corrine Rose; Pondera County Sanitarian commented; “Often Norwalk virus is the culprit when many people come down with vomiting and diarrhea at the same time.”
Norovirus is mainly communicable because it requires a very small amount of virus particles (fewer than 100) to make someone sick. This is particularly concerning for groups that are high risk for complication such as infants and young children, elderly, and those who are immune compromised. With norovirus, influenza and pertussis all potentially present in the community; Pondera Medical Center Extended Care has heightened their own level of concern for visitors to the facility.
“We are asking community members to be especially vigilant about staying away from our nursing home if they are ill in any way.” This quote from Laurie Ward; Infection Control Coordinator at PMC reflects not only concern in the Conrad facility but an area awareness that is reflected in several visitor limitations around the region at hospitals and nursing homes.
While it’s difficult to control; the health department reminds people of some key norovirus facts.
Norovirus is by far the most contagious when a person has symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea.
If you have these symptoms; know that most people get better within 1-3 days. During this time and for 48 hours following symptoms, the person should avoid any food preparation for groups including pot lucks, restaurant food preparation, daycare, nursing home or even family gatherings.
Additionally; the virus is shed in stools for 2-3 weeks after all symptoms have passed so special attention to hand washing is extremely important.
Food can get contaminated with norovirus when:
Infected people who have stool or vomit on their hands touch the food.
It is placed on counters or surfaces that have infectious stool or vomit on them, or tiny drops of vomit from an infected person spray through the air and land on the food.
Grubb also noted that norovirus can be extreme for the 1-3 days and caution is valid.
“Some people cannot tolerate vomiting and diarrhea for this period of time including children and elderly or people with chronic disease, you may need to call your provider if you are too sick,” she said.
Grubb went on to say, “Also, not all vomiting and diarrhea is linked to a virus, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea can all be symptoms of something more serious. If you are concerned or not recovering; please call your health care provider.”
For more information; go to www.cdc.gov/norovirus or call the PCHD at 271-3247.