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Kane dealing with norovirus outbreak

Jack Frost officially won't nip noses for another two weeks but stomachs at the McKeesport John J. Kane Regional Center have been nipped for three weeks by a "winter vomiting illness."

"Kane is doing all the right things," Allegheny County Health Department spokesman Dave Zazac said Tuesday about an outbreak of a norovirus, something also known as a stomach flu or gastroenteritis.

"We've always known that there was a winter stomach flu, but norovirus was first identified in 1972," Zazac said. "The norovirus issue at Kane McKeesport started in mid-November, around the 15th."

Noroviruses are responsible for more than 90 percent of intestinal illnesses and occur most frequently in the winter months.

Zazac and Kane executive director Dennis Biondo believe visitors brought the virus in to the local center.

"While we're not discouraging visitors," Biondo said, "we're encouraging them that, if they are sick, they not visit, especially at this time."

Laboratory tests confirmed three cases, while approximately 30 others were said to be probable.

"They're isolating patients who have been confirmed as being sick," Zazac said.

"Anyone who is exhibiting the symptoms is being limited in their activities."

Kane McKeesport has 328 residents and approximately 300 staffers. Suspected cases continue, with the last of six McKeesport units there having its first case Tuesday.

"There may be some lingering issues but nothing that would be termed life-threatening," Zazac said.

"There are a couple units that have had no symptoms so it seems to have cleared those units," Biondo said. To make sure, however, the "all clear" won't go up until 48 hours pass without new reports of symptoms. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping.

"We'd ask the residents not to be moving from one unit to the other or coming downstairs for activities at least until it clears that unit," Biondo said.

Symptoms begin suddenly and generally last one or two days, according to a fact sheet at www.achd.net.

In addition to direct contact with an infected person, a norovirus can be spread by ingesting contaminated food, water or beverages as well as hand-to-mouth contact after touching contaminated surfaces or objects.

"(Kane is) cutting back on group activities, emphasizing hand washing to the staff," Zazac said. "They're also wiping down surfaces with bleach solution. You can't just use perhaps a cosmetic-type cleaner. You want a bleach solution that will kill the virus outright."

Other suggestions include thoroughly washing any soiled laundry and rehydrating patients.

"They need to drink plenty of fluids to replace the fluids that have been lost," Zazac said.

Reportedly, there was a norovirus in October at a Pittsburgh school. The Kane situation is the first in the Mon-Yough area and likely will not be the last.

"It happens in schools," the county health spokesman said. "It can happen in a workplace, it can happen in institutional settings."

There is no norovirus vaccine and no antiviral medications work against it.

"For those who may be in close contact with those who could be sick, try to keep things as clean as they can, (for) themselves and the surrounding environment of the ill individual," the ACHD spokesman said.

Norovirus is not reportable, Zazac said, "but we are available for technical assistance, especially in large-scale settings."

On the horizon is something that does get on the official radar the flu, for which many offer shots.

"We can anticipate the flu perhaps making an appearance after the holidays," Zazac said. "There are dozens of viruses out there that can make you sick."

More details also are available by calling 412-687-2243.

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