Lewis and Clark County officials said Tuesday that they are aware of “almost 60” residents showing symptoms of norovirus, commonly known as stomach flu, and urged residents to take precautions to avoid getting sick.
Laurel Riek, supervisor of the Lewis and Clark Public Health’s Licensed Establishment Program, stated in a Tuesday press release that 14 lab-confirmed cases and 12 hospitalizations had been reported in the past week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which classifies norovirus as "very contagious," advises thorough hand washing, disinfection of surfaces and clothing and proper food safety to avoid infection, including not preparing food for at least two days after symptoms cease.
Diarrhea and vomiting are among the most common symptoms of the virus, according to the CDC, which makes proper hydration crucial for those infected.
The CDC estimates that norovirus leads to 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations and 570 to 800 deaths each year in the United States, mostly children and the elderly.
The increasing number of cases led St. Peter’s Health to begin restricting visitation at its Regional Medical Center this past weekend.
At 11:45 a.m. Friday, the hospital blocked access to anyone exhibiting diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach pain, fever and body aches unless they were seeking care. No one trying to visit a patient on the hospital’s medical and surgical floor can do so unless the patient is receiving end-of-life care.
By Monday morning, according to public relations specialist Katie Gallagher, the hospital was dealing with seven cases of norovirus with another still pending.