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Norovirus surge reaches 1500 cases in Ventura County |

Norovirus surge reaches 1500 cases in Ventura County

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Here are a few tips to help you prevent the spread of highly contagious norovirus.
USA TODAY NETWORK

A surge of norovirus cases continues across Ventura County, with a suspected outbreak at a senior living community pushing the year’s estimated cases to about 1,500.

Ventura County Public Health Director Dr. Robert Levin said 31 of 154 residents and one staff member at The Reserve at Thousand Oaks contracted an illness suspected to be norovirus, which often spreads in schools, nursing homes and other closed communities. It can bring diarrhea, stomach cramping and symptoms that earn it the nickname of the winter vomiting disease.

The 32 cases accumulated since late April, said Elizabeth Spencer, general manager of The Reserve. Residents taken to the hospital in a precautionary measure have gone through testing, with three cases confirmed as norovirus.

The rash of norovirus in a senior community is not unusual. But it comes in the wake of a series of outbreaks in different corners of Ventura County.

A week ago, 71 of 255 students were reported sick at Thacher School, a private boarding school in Ojai. Public health officials said about 15 faculty and staff members also came down with the suspected virus.

Michael Mulligan, head of Thacher School, praised public health efforts on Thursday and said the outbreak was diminishing, with only five new illnesses in the past three days.

Noting that the norovirus surge was the first in his more than 30 years at the school, Mulligan said protective measures including a mandate on handwashing, disposable dinnerware that can be composted and separate restrooms for guests remain in place.

Levin said a few possible cases from Thacher may have spilled to Monica Ros School, a private Ojai school for kids ages 3 to 9. A Monica Ros official emphasized that the cases, involving three kindergartners and a second-grader, were unconfirmed and in the process of being tested.

In March, norovirus lurched across the Rio School District in the Oxnard area, infecting more than 700 elementary and middle school students. The illness also emerged in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, shutting down a Santa Monica middle school for a day.

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Although it’s an alarmingly common virus that can be spread by food, human contact and contaminated surfaces, this year’s tally in Ventura County is far higher than a year ago. Public health records show only 10 Ventura County cases in 2016, but Levin said the number may possibly reflect only positive lab tests and actual cases could be much higher.

It’s difficult to pin the increase in cases on a specific cause.

“Certain diseases appear episodically, periodically,” said Levin, listing norovirus alongside other illnesses such as whooping cough. “This could just be a norovirus year.”

Elizabeth Huff, a manager at Ventura County Environmental Health, also registered no surprise at the county’s 1,500 estimated cases.

“When you’re in this confined sort of atmosphere, it spreads very easily,” she said.

Levin said outbreaks in places like The Reserve, which offers independent and assisted living, are common but trigger concern because of the age of residents.

“I know some of them have gone to emergency rooms and have been hospitalized,” he said of the people suspected of contracting the illness at The Reserve.

Spencer said the outbreak appears to be tapering. She said all the people who became sick have recovered or are in that process.

She said protective measures include halting communal events and bringing meals to residents in their apartments. Visits from guests are temporarily discouraged, she said.

Levin emphasized the importance of washing hands with soap and water, disinfecting common surfaces and keeping people with symptoms away from other people.

“We ask that people who develop illnesses not go back into common settings for 48 hours,” he said.

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