Although specimens haven’t been sent to the lab for confirmation of the norovirus, the reported cases presented symptoms, onset and recovery times consistent with a norovirus-like illness, said Marcia Mansaray, epidemiologist for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health.
Norovirus symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting, fever, headache and body aches. The virus is passed by physical contact with someone infected with it, consuming foods or drinks that are contaminated, and touching surfaces that have also been contaminated.
The norovirus is easily spread, Mansaray said.
“It doesn’t take very much of an exposure to get sick,” she said.
Within 12-48 hours of being exposed, people usually begin showing symptoms. They usually recover within 1-3 days.
Although norovirus outbreaks occur throughout the year, more than 80 percent of reported cases happen between November and April, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The local health department receives weekly reports from places such as schools, preschools, licensed child care facilities, medical offices, hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities. However, there are many people in the community whose symptoms and cases go unreported, Mansaray said.
Cases of norovirus began to be reported last month. Prior to schools going on winter break, between 500 and 600 cases were being reported each week, Mansaray said.
Now, health officials are seeing cases being reported at outbreak levels — meaning 20 percent of a school’s staff and/or students are absent. The outbreaks are happening primarily within schools and child care settings, Mansaray said.
Residents are advised to stay home for at least 24 hours after their symptoms end. According to the CDC, the most contagious time is when a person first begins feeling ill through the first few days after they’ve recovered.
Since hand sanitizer is ineffective against the norovirus, residents should use soap and water when washing their hands, Mansaray said. You can also take steps to protect yourself and others from the norovirus by not preparing food if you have symptoms, immediately washing linens and clothing contaminated by stool or vomit, and disinfecting contaminated surfaces. To disinfect and clean contaminated surfaces, use bleach-based cleaners or a solution that contains 5 tablespoons of bleach and a gallon of water.
Health officials are also seeing an increase in reports of influenza A, and it has yet to peak, Mansaray said. Prior to going on winter break, schools reported about 1,000 children and health care providers saw between 100 and 200 patients weekly with symptoms. The number of positive tests also increased from 30-40 per week to now more than 150 each week, Mansaray said.
Health officials are advocating that people receive the flu vaccination and seek medical attention.
If a patient is high-risk — young, older, has asthma or other health conditions that could complicate the flu — Mansaray said they’re encouraging doctors to immediately begin antiviral medications as a precaution. If the flu test comes back negative, patients can stop taking those medications.
While some strains of the flu can be milder, Mansaray said the strain currently being seen locally and nationally tends to be more severe.
Symptoms of the flu include a fever, sore throat, cough, stuffy or runny nose, body or muscle aches, headache, and fatigue. Some people might also experience diarrhea and vomiting.
The Kent County Health Department issued a statement on behalf of Mercy Health, Mary Free Bed, Metro Health/University of Michigan Health, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services and Spectrum Health requesting that people who are ill refrain from visiting their facilities. They also request only two family members or friends visit patients. According to the press release, the restrictions are in place until further notice.