The Butte County Public Health Department has been using public health measures to stop a gastrointestinal illness (GI) outbreak in all monitored shelters. Since the shelters opened to house Camp Fire evacuees, 145 people have been sick with vomiting and/or diarrhea. As of Wednesday evening, there were 41 people experiencing symptoms at the following shelters:
•Neighborhood Church: 179 total evacuees at the shelter, 21 currently experiencing illness
•Oroville Nazarene Church: 352 total evacuees at the shelter, 10 currently experiencing illness
•Butte County Fairgrounds: 142 total evacuees at the shelter, 9 currently experiencing illness
•East Avenue Church: 200 total evacuees at the shelter, 1 currently experiencing illness
The number of sick people is increasing every day. Twenty-five people have been to the hospital for medical support. Staff serving the shelters have also been sick. The outbreak has been identified and confirmed by the Butte County public health laboratory to be the Norovirus which is highly contagious. Norovirus spreads through touching surfaces contaminated with the virus, close contact with someone who is infected, or eating contaminated food or drink.
Norovirus is the leading cause of outbreaks of diarrhea and vomiting in the U.S., and it spreads quickly in schools, shelters, and places where many people are in close quarters. There is no medication to get rid of the virus and there is no vaccine. Most people are sick for 1-3 days and get better without medical support. Seniors, young children, and people with chronic diseases can suffer from more severe illness, may get dehydrated, and require medical support. Norovirus particles are extremely small and billions of them are in the stool and vomit of infected people. Any vomit or diarrhea may contain Norovirus and should be treated as though it does. People can transfer Norovirus to others for at least 48 hours after symptoms go away.
Butte County Public Health is working with the Red Cross, as well as state and federal partners to prevent and reduce the spread of Norovirus at Camp Fire evacuation shelters with the following actions:
•Coordinated additional medical staff to support affected shelters
•Provided education about the illness and preplanning actions to shelter staff (both medical and Red Cross)
•Established separate shelter areas for sick evacuees, which include separate hand washing and bathroom areas, and limited in-and-out access
•Ensured that shelters are being cleaned with supplies effective against Norovirus and scheduled additional cleaning
•Supplied medical staff with personal protective equipment to minimize exposure
•Provided additional bathrooms and handwashing stations, including bathrooms and handwashing stations dedicated for use by ill persons
•Active monitoring of shelter residents for signs and symptoms of norovirus illness and coordinating laboratory testing to confirm the cause of the outbreak as norovirus
Include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. Symptoms last for 1-3 days. However, after symptoms go away, people are still highly infectious, especially for 48 hours after symptoms go away. There is no treatment for Norovirus. The most important steps to prevent the spread of Norovirus is to stay home if you are sick for another 48 hours after symptoms go away and for everyone to regularly wash their hands.
Butte County Public Health Officer Andy Miller, MD stated, “This virus can spread quickly through the community. Norovirus had begun to spread in our community even prior to the fires.” Please follow these recommended steps to prevent further spread:
•Stay home if there is any sign of illness such as stomach pain, fever, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea.
•Stay home for an additional 48 hours after symptoms are gone.Even though you feel better, you still carry the virus and can infect other people.
•Wash your hands frequently throughout the day with soap and water.
•Clean contaminated surfaces regularly with appropriate disinfectant, such as bleach.
•Do not prepare food and drink for others if you are sick.
•Questions related to symptoms and treatment should be directed to your primary care provider or clinic.
•If your child is sick, notify the school and tell them know your child’s symptoms.
The spread of Norovirus can be prevented by practicing proper hand hygiene. Important strategies include washing hands with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers, and always before eating, preparing or handling food.