Butte County Public Health officials report that evacuees of the northern California Camp fire are now being struck with the Norovirus. At least 145 people at 4 different shelters have shown symptoms of the virus including, vomiting and diarrhea, and the number of sick is increasing every day. The first cases were reported last week, and within 48 hours, 25 people had been sent to the hospital for treatment.
Where are the outbreaks happening?
Norovirus is common in places such as shelters, where large numbers of people come into close contact with each other. Outbreaks of the virus were reported in at least one Florida shelter following hurricane Florence earlier this year. Other locations where outbreaks tend to occur are cruise ships, nursing homes, long-term health care facilities and restaurants or catered events. Four Butte area shelters have been affected so far, including:
- Neighborhood Church: 21 of 179 evacuees are ill
- Oroville Nazarene Church: 10 of 352 evacuees are ill
- Butte County Fairgrounds: 9 of 142 evacuees are ill
- East Avenue Church: 1 of 200 evacuees are ill
Many shelter workers have also been affected by the outbreak. Butte County Public Health is coordinating with the Red Cross and other state and federal partners to reduce the spread of the virus. Because the virus can spread so quickly, efforts are being made to separate the sick from the healthy by creating special areas within the shelter for the sick. These areas provide access to separate hand washing and bathroom facilities and have a dedicated entrance and exit. Additional preventative measures implemented include, increased medical personnel in shelters, educating evacuees about the illness and how it is spread, effective and additional cleaning measures using supplies that are proven effective against the Norovirus, personal protective equipment for medical staff and active monitoring of shelter residents for symptoms. Butte County Public health is also performing lab testing to confirm the cause of the outbreak.
What is Norovirus?
According to the CDC, Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis, often labeled the “stomach bug,” and outbreaks of foodborne illness in the United States. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, stomach problems, fever, and body aches. Norovirus particles are extremely small and an infected person may have billions of particles in their system. The virus is highly contagious, spreads extremely fast and can stay in your system for 2 weeks or more even after symptoms subside.
Direct contact with contaminated surfaces or someone who has the virus and contaminated food and water are most often blamed for the spread of Norovirus. And, because it is a virus, there is currently no medication or vaccine treatment. For most, sickness typically lasts for 1-3 days and recovery without medical support is possible. Sickness for seniors, young children and people with chronic diseases is much more serious and can even be fatal. For these high risk populations and those who become dehydrated, hospitalization and intravenous fluids is typically required. Dehydration the most serious side effect, and drinking plenty of fluids is extremely helpful to reduce hospitalization.
Stopping the Spread of Norovirus
With good hygiene and food safety practices, the transmission of Norovirus can be slowed or even stopped. Increased personal hygiene is an extremely helpful and easy step that can be taken by all. The CDC recommends thorough and frequent hand washing and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in addition to, but not as a substitute for, hand washing. Safe food preparation and handling is another very important step in Norovirus prevention. Food should be well washed and fully cooked and it is imperative to throw out all food that has possibly been contaminated. Anyone who is sick should not prepare food for others. Additional measures that can be taken to stop or slow the spreading virus include frequent disinfection of all surfaces and laundering of clothes, towels and bedsheets.
Although the origin of the Camp Fire continues to be under investigation, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) may face additional liability for claims for medical care, treatment, and pain and suffering if found to be responsible for fire.