State health officials investigate norovirus deaths

Posted: Friday, August 04, 2006

State health officials investigated the norovirus deaths of three residents of a long-term care facility in Southeast Alaska.

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Others - including staff and residents at another facility - became severely ill from the highly contagious virus, according to the state epidemiology office.

Officials would not identify the facilities or the communities. Last month, 15 of the 41 residents of the Juneau Pioneers' Home showed symptoms of norovirus, according to a Juneau Empire report. Nine staff members at the facility also had symptoms of the stomach bug.

The Juneau Pioneer's Home had no fatalities, said Barbra Holian, a public information officer for the state Department of Health and Social Services. But she said she could not confirm at which facility the deaths occurred because of confidentiality policies.

Epidemiologist Louisa Castrodale also would not confirm where the deaths occurred.

"There were investigations that were in long-term facilities in Southeast," she said.

The worst outbreak began June 28, when a staff member at "Facility A" came down with the gastrointestinal illness. A resident there got sick in a common room on July 5, followed by 16 staff and residents who became ill over the next two days.

Twelve of those taken ill had been in the common room within 24 hours of the "public vomiting event," investigators wrote in a July 27 epidemiology bulletin.

Three residents died within three days of falling ill. All of the residents who got sick had other serious health conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease, high blood pressure or diabetes.

Altogether, 26 people - including eight residents - became ill at the facility.

No one died in the outbreak starting July 4 at "Facility B." At that long-term care home, 14 residents and nine staff members became ill. The residents who got sick also had other serious health issues.

The illness usually lasts a couple of days for relatively healthy adults, said Karen Martinek, a state nurse epidemiologist who led a team investigation of the outbreaks.

Lab tests confirmed that norovirus caused the illness. Facilities are not required to report outbreaks of suspected norovirus to the state, but both did, according to Martinek. She said the state wants to hear about clusters of the disease and decided to investigate these cases because of the deaths.

State investigators were unable to determine the original source of the virus.

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