Retirement Home Deals With Flu Bug

WHEELING – With the cold and flu season in full swing, a local retirement home is dealing with an outbreak of stomach flu.

Howard Gamble, Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department administrator, said Elmhurst, the House of Friendship, located on National Road in Wheeling, is dealing with an outbreak of the gastrointestinal flu, which is possibly the norovirus.

“At this point it looks like an outbreak of the norovirus – stomach flu, not the traditional flu. We have advised them on the steps for investigation and control. We do need to confirm the outbreak, through laboratory testing, as norovirus and not another bug. We are working on this with the facility and the health officer,” Gamble said, referring to Health Officer Dr. William Mercer.

Gamble said norovirus is highly contagious.

“It spreads through close person-to-person contact, contaminated food or water, contaminated surfaces, objects or substances,” Gamble said, adding it can also spread through aerosolized fluids that land on surfaces.

When a facility has an outbreak, it often will limit or stop visitors from entering the facility for a time. Elmhurst Executive Director Jamie Crow said Elmhurst, a senior assisted living residence, has confined its residents to their apartments since Tuesday due to the suspected virus. She said the facility is working with the health department on the matter.

“Each of our residents is our top priority. All staff at Elmhurst are taking extra measures to ensure the comfort and care of our residents. We have added additional staff throughout the day and night to supplement our 24-hour resident assistants,” Crow said. “Despite the continued inclement weather, we are providing residents with extra (care) and in-room activities to pass the time.”

Gamble said when an outbreak occurs, the health department works with the facilities to try and stop the spread of a virus. These steps include identifying the sick staff members and residents; determining when people first having symptoms to determine whether the illness is being spread from person-to-person; collection of specimens for laboratory testing; start control measures; increase cleaning in common areas; increase hand hygiene for staff, residents and visitors; educate people about how the illness spreads and how to prevent its transmission; food service inspection; and limit new admissions and transfers.

Gamble said an outbreak is defined as the onset of two more cases within a three-day period.

“We have worked very closely with all of our health care facilities in the past when they have had outbreaks, including laboratory testing, investigation of the outbreak and instituting control measures, which can include limiting visitors and guests into the building,” he said.

Gamble said he called all the health care facilities Thursday in Ohio County and none reported having any problems with the flu.

“In West Virginia, (health care) facilities and providers are required to report certain communicable diseases. Laboratories in the state are also required to report. Elmhurst is a licensed health care facility,” Gamble said.