Photo courtesy of http://www.dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/norovirus/

Norovirus outbreaks have skyrocketed in Montana. The virus, which causes violent bouts of vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhea will typically strike once or twice a month, but it's off to a fast start this year with twenty outbreaks in less than twenty weeks.

"Since the beginning of the year, the most people effected by a single outbreak were 84," said Karl Milhon, Epidemiologist with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

Officials estimate that over 500 people have contracted the disease so far this year with certain locations having a higher rate of norovirus outbreaks than others.

"The most outbreaks from a percentage standpoint appear to occur in long term care facilities," Milhon said. "But with children in particular you'll hear these stories where they'll go into school and because this comes on very quickly, they can get sick right there on the spot and they can just kind of lose it right there in the classroom."

Clean hands and proper hygiene are crucial in the fight against norovirus. The Montana Department of Health and Human Services advises taking the following steps toward prevention.

  • 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 infected with norovirus 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 or a solution made by adding 5–25 tablespoons of household bleach to 1 gallon of water.
  • 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, then machine dry. Handle soiled items carefully—without agitating them—to avoid spreading virus.

Karl Milhon