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W.Va. health officials warn of virus outbreak

January 12, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Health officials are reminding area residents to carefully observe personal hygiene practices in wake of confirmed seasonal outbreaks of Norovirus-related illness at community health-care facilities in Berkeley County.

Though not uncommon this time of year, "Norovirus is highly contagious and is transmitted primarily through hand transfer of the virus to the mouth, by direct person-to-person spread, and through vomit or fecal contamination of food or water," Berkeley County Health Officer Diana Gaviria said in a news release Thursday.

Unlike seasonal flu, Norovirus is not a respiratory illness and is primarily characterized by vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms of Norovirus infection include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, headache, low fever, chills, muscle aches and tiredness.

The illness often is suddenly realized within 12 to 48 hours after ingestion of the virus. There is no vaccine against it, and no antiviral drug is effective, officials said.

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The best defense against the illness is devoting careful attention to hand-washing with soap and water, and other personal hygiene practices, as well as staying at home when sick, officials said.

Gaviria said testing by the West Virginia Office of Laboratory Services confirmed a virus-related outbreak at City Hospital in Martinsburg and at a couple of nursing homes. City Hospital officials decided to temporarily close a unit of its operations because of the outbreak, which began around New Year's Day, Gaviria said.

Kimberly Kline, a regional epidemiologist for the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health, said small outbreaks of the virus-related illness had been reported statewide in recent weeks, but the reports were a relatively common occurrence this time of year.

"If the symptoms last more than three days, or if there is high fever or blood in stool or vomit, it's unlikely to be Norovirus. Call your primary health-care provider," Gaviria said.

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