Norwalk virus closes Canadian hospital

A hospital in Toronto, Canada has been closed to patients and visitors following an outbreak of the Norwalk virus.

The long term care facility caters for people with chronic diseases and it is reported that a total of 50 staff members and patients have been affected.

Extra precautions are being taken to curb the spread of the outbreak, which began in January.

The hospital, Bridgepoint Health, has hundreds of patients, many of whom are bedridden with limited mobility and there are currently 20 active cases in the hospital which has a capacity of 500 beds.

The Norwalk virus is an intestinal illness spread through the feces of infected people.

The virus causes winter vomiting disease, viral gastroenteritis, acute nonbacterial gastroenteritis, food poisoning, and stomach flu; headaches, general lethargy and weakness and low-grade fevers may also occur.

As a rule the disease is self-limiting but symptoms may persist for several days and may become life-threatening in the young, the elderly, and the immune-compromised if dehydration is ignored or not treated.

There is no cure for Norwalk gastroenteritis and antibiotics do not work against the infection; the virus is highly contagious and can spread quickly in hospitals or confined environments like cruise ships.

Norwalk gastroenteritis is transmitted via contaminated water and foods but can be passed from person to person by contact with infected vomit or fecal matter.

Waterborne outbreaks may include water from municipal supplies, wells, recreational lakes, swimming pools, and ice machines.

Shellfish and salad ingredients are the foods most often implicated in Norwalk outbreaks, particularly where raw or insufficiently cooked clams and oysters are eaten.

Foods other than shellfish are usually contaminated by food handlers who have the illness.

It is suspected the infection was brought in from outside the hospital and in order to limit the spread of the virus, extra emphasis is being placed on hand washing, wearing gloves, cleaning, disinfecting and limiting contact between units.

The virus normally lasts two or three days without serious or long-term side effects.

The hospital is an older facility with shared washrooms which is scheduled for redevelopment.

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