It all started with a gathering. My family had lost a loved one. Some of us flew, others drove but whatever it took, we came together to celebrate the life of our loved one. Within 48 hours after the service, the texts started flying. Seven of us were ill, feeling like we were going to die. Two of us ended up at the hospital. The two who were seen at the hospital were positive for norovirus. The rest of us knew that we were right there with the others. Norovirus had claimed victory over our bodies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that norovirus causes 19 million to 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis. The virus contributes to 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalization and 570 to 800 deaths. As a chief nursing officer, I had dealt with outbreaks within the hospital and long-term care settings. We used our precautions and cohorted patients on one floor or in one area to attempt to contain possible exposure. We used our bleach cleaners and washed our hands with soap and water — a very different approach than our normal way of infection control.
What I learned from contracting norovirus is how little our communities know about the virus. In doing my research I found that the average person felt that certain cleaners killed all viruses, including norovirus. They didn’t understand that this particular virus can be contracted through direct and indirect contact. They didn’t understand the role of bleach in wiping down possible areas that have been contaminated. Nor did they understand how contiguous the virus is and how easily it is transmitted.
Norovirus outbreaks can occur anytime of the year, but they have a tendency to occur more in the late fall or winter months. As we look toward the flu and virus season, here are some things to consider in an effort to reduce the risk of an outbreak:
1. Healthcare providers need to come together to develop a plan of care and management of residents and patients in their communities. I have seen hospitals and long-term care facilities working together both in prevention of further outbreaks but also to care for the ill. By coordinating care, they minimized possible exposure and further spread of the virus.
2. Working together, healthcare providers also can develop public service announcements that can be used to educate their communities on how to minimize exposure and outbreaks.
3. Establish phone trees among care centers to alert each other that norovirus has been confirmed within the community. Awareness that the virus has been confirmed or suspicion of norovirus being present within a community can assist in putting infection prevention plans into motion to minimize the possible exposure within communities.
4. Partner with businesses to create education centers and supplies to be purchased to assist with community awareness and infection prevention at the places that people congregate.
Norovirus contributes to hospitalizations, emergency department visits and for me three, of the most miserable days I have had in a long time. It is highly contiguous and is not easily killed with the usual tactics used for cleaning. Helping our communities and the places we provide care understand how to prevent the spread of the virus is imperative for those who are vulnerable, fragile and, like me, would prefer not to ever be that ill again.
Martie Moore, RN, MAOM, CPHQ, is Chief Nursing Officer at Medline Industries.