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Claremont Hit By Stomach Flu

Contagious Virus ‘Rampant’ in Area

Claremont — If you’re running a step ahead of norovirus so far this winter, count your blessings and wash your hands.

And then wash them again, especially if you just visited or soon will cross paths or shake hands with anyone living or working in and around Claremont where the virus more commonly known as stomach flu has taken hold.

“It’s rampant out there,” said Tracy Pike, nurse manager of the emergency department at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, Wednesday. “The last few weeks we’ve had a lot of people coming in with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. We’ve been seeing three or four cases a day, at least. That’s probably on the low end. I’d say it’s at least 60 percent more than usual.

“And it’s across the board: patients from nursing homes, young healthy adults in their 20s and 30s, little kids. All varieties of ages. Last year it was more in the nursing homes. Now it’s in the general community. It’s horribly contagious.”

For all the stampede of individual sufferers through Valley Regional since the beginning of January, incidences of norovirus in the Upper Valley are not yet rising to the level at which nursing homes, schools, day-care centers and other institutions are reporting unusual numbers of outright outbreaks, defined as multiple cases within one institution, to the epidemiologists at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

“Since December, we’ve had 33 outbreaks reported to us from around the state,” said Beth Daley, the department’s chief of infectious disease surveillance. “There was quite a cluster of them in December and early January, when we put out a health alert, but it certainly hasn’t been our most active year.”

But the reported outbreaks are nowhere close, yet, to the 100 reports the department received between December 2011 and March 2012, Daley added. That same season, institutions reported 20 outbreaks of “acute gastroenteritis” and 13 confirmed outbreaks of norovirus to the Vermont Department of Health, according to epidemiologist Bradley Tomkins, who estimated that one or two reports have been coming in per week this season.

The Sullivan County Nursing Home in Unity has reported outbreaks that “were contained to a couple of units,” administrator Ted Purdy said on Wednesday, “but it hasn’t been widespread so far.”

“Overall,” he continued, “we may have a little more this year, it appears, than last year, but we were quite free from it last year. It’s pretty consistent that if there’s any of it out in the community, that’s where we find (outbreaks at the home) come from. We try to warn people who are coming in to visit to be careful about washing their hands.”

At Valley Regional, Pike said that vigilance with hygiene so far seems to be preventing outbreaks among staff and employees.

“With more of it out there in the community,” Pike said, “not only are we hand-washing more, but masking as well, to make sure we don’t have it.”

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon and Gifford Medical Center in Randolph both said they haven’t seen a spike in the number of cases so far this season.

At Dick’s House, Jack Turco, longtime director of the Dartmouth Health Service, said that “we are seeing more gastrointestinal viruses than usual,” though not by a wide margin.

At Dartmouth Health Connect, the college’s primary-care service for employees and their families, health coach Tyler Hanna also reported “an increasing number of stomach illnesses and gastrointestinal issues in the last month, which seems to be going around,” though none was specifically diagnosed as norovirus.

Once you catch norovirus or a related condition, Hanna said, “one tactic that seems to work for patients, and has some research to back it, is the use of an echinacea and zinc supplement for immune support. One that we like here is Airborne, which includes other electrolytes as well, and there is also a CVS equivalent that works just as well. You drop a tab in water, it fizzes up, and when it’s done you drink it.”

In the Dresden School District, Superintendent Frank Bass said that he’s hoping that students and staff make it to midwinter break in February by continuing to take preventative measures.

“That’s, what, 10 days away?” Bass said. “That would be huge.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dacorriveau@gmail.com or at 603-727-3304.