Montana health officials issued a warning today about an increase in norovirus outbreaks in the state.


According to the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), since October 2014, 11 diarrheal illness outbreaks have sickened nearly 300 people throughout Montana and caused 11 hospitalizations. Traditionally, the month of January is when most of these outbreaks usually occur in Montana.

Most of the outbreaks have occurred in assisted living and nursing homes, in addition to outbreaks in the community setting as well.

“Norovirus is easily spread, but there’s easy ways to limit further outbreaks by following basic prevention tips, such as proper hand washing with soap and water several times a day,” said DPHHS Director Richard Opper. “This is the most effective way to protect yourself and others against norovirus.”

Noroviruses are the most common of the viruses that cause gastroenteritis. The usual symptoms of gastroenteritis include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. There is no specific treatment for this illness and most individuals recover in 1 to 3 days. The illness can last longer and be more severe in young children, older persons, or persons who have other health conditions.

“Diarrheal illnesses are usually transmitted by ingesting a contaminated product or touching a contaminated object, which could simply be shaking hands or using shared restrooms”, says DPHHS epidemiologist Dana Fejes.

Norovirus and other related illnesses can best be prevented by following these prevention tips:

  • Practice proper hand hygiene: Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not a substitute for washing with soap and water.
  • Take care in the kitchen: Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
  • Do not prepare food while ill: People who are ill with diarrhea should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for 3 days after they recover from their illness.
  • Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces: After an episode of illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces by using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label.
  • Wash laundry thoroughly: Immediately remove clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or fecal matter and wash with detergent at the maximum length available cycle.
  • Stay home when you are ill: Avoid close contact to others while you are ill with diarrhea.