In a follow-up to a recent report concerning dozens of people associated with Spokane’s House of Charity becoming ill with symptoms resembling norovirus, the Spokane Regional Health District reports the confirmation of norovirus as the etiologic agent of the outbreak.
Local officials continue to urge patrons who visited the House of Charity since Thursday to return to the shelter to seek rest and care again tonight. This measure will also help limit the spread of norovirus, which was confirmed this morning to be the cause of the intestinal illness outbreak that hit the shelter over the weekend.
“Out of an abundance of care and caution for those who may have been exposed to the illness, we are urging people to remain at the House of Charity,” said Dr. Sam Artzis, interim health officer for Spokane Regional Health District. “We are grateful for the care and concern that we are seeing in the community in helping these individuals to get well.”
The risk of the general population in Spokane County acquiring norovirus is extremely low and there is no call to action concerning their well-being at this time. Emergency room and other health care provider settings in the community are not seeing an increase in patients exhibiting symptoms.
Individuals associated with the shelter who show symptoms are being cared for at House of Charity, separately from those who show no symptoms. About five dozen sick patrons spent the night in isolation Saturday at House of Charity. Symptoms ranged from severe nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headaches, and body aches. About a dozen House of Charity staff members are also sick and recuperating at home. Some sick patrons at Union Gospel Mission and Hope House also remained isolated with similar symptoms. Prevention information was distributed to local service providers who work with homeless populations.
About 160 patrons who showed no symptoms spent Saturday night at House of Charity separate from those who were ill. Partners responding to this outbreak, including House of Charity, Greater Spokane Emergency Management, Spokane Regional Health District, American Red Cross Inland Northwest Chapter, Providence Health System, City of Spokane, Spokane Fire Department and Spokane Police Department are prepared to shelter and care for symptomatic individuals as long as necessary.
Spokane Regional Health District epidemiologists are following standard procedures in investigating confirmed cases, yet it is common to never discover the source of an outbreak. Norovirus is frequently the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States.
Each year, Spokane Regional Health District investigates dozens of intestinal illness outbreaks in Spokane County, many of which are likely caused by norovirus. Norovirus is highly contagious and anyone can get infected. Norovirus can spread quickly in closed places like daycare centers, nursing homes, schools, shelters, and cruise ships. Most norovirus outbreaks happen from November to April in the United States.
A person usually develops symptoms 12 hours to 48 hours after being exposed to norovirus. Most people with norovirus illness get better within one to three days. Norovirus can lead to dehydration, especially in young children, older adults, and people with other illnesses. Symptoms of dehydration include decrease in urination, dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when standing up.
Public health officials continue to emphasize individual hygiene, including carefully and thoroughly washing hands with soap and water. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing.
Continued Dr. Artzis, “If we’re meticulous about washing our hands and handling food properly, we may be able to limit the impact.”