Norwalk virus hasn't hit area

Posted: Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Norwalk virus, which made many cruise ship passengers sick this summer, has not been reported on the Kenai Peninsula as yet, but it's popping up all over Alaska.

The Department of Environmental Conservation said Monday that it's not aware of any cases on the peninsula currently, but it is showing up in Fairbanks, Juneau and Southeast, and people here should take preventive measures.

"Because Norwalk virus is not a reportable disease, there may be some (cases) in Kenai and they are not being reported," state medical epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said Tuesday.

"However, if there's an unusually high number of cases, they need to be reported. I'm not aware of any (on the Kenai Peninsula)," he said.

Symptoms of the virus are not usually life-threatening, but they are not enjoyable either, said a DEC spokesperson. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, chills, headache, body ache and fatigue and usually last a few days.

"The key to prevention is frequent hand washing and sanitizing of food-service equipment," said Kristin Ryan of DEC.

Ryan also said there is no vaccination for the virus.

It can be spread through food, water and possibly air, and by touching inanimate objects previously handled by an infected person.

"We're telling people to wash their hands frequently and wash them for a long enough period of time," Ryan said.

"We have a public service announcement coming out that says to wash your hands as long as it takes you to sing 'Happy Birthday' all the way through twice."

In addition to meticulous hand washing, the virus can be prevented from spreading by disinfecting any possibly contaminated surfaces such as handrails, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, counters, dining tables and other hard surfaces with a mixture of chlorine bleach and water.

The DEC is helping restaurants, schools, adult residential facilities and child-care centers across Alaska take steps toward stopping the spread of the virus.

Managers of facilities where people congregate and eat are being asked to sanitize, wash hands frequently, cook foods properly and not allow sick employees to work.

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