Boise VA officials: Quarantine of extended-care building expected to be lifted Thursday

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comMarch 12, 2014 

The Community Living Center building at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus in Boise has been quarantined since late last week due to a highly contagious virus, possibly norovirus, a VA spokesman said Wednesday. The quarantine is expected to be lifted as soon as Thursday.

Eight patients and seven staff members in the extended-care facility - a one-story building next to the three-story hospital building - were diagnosed with some form of gastroenteritis, said Grant Ragsdale, associate medical center director. Tests are being done at the state lab to determine if it is norovirus.

Norovirus outbreaks, a diarrheal illness often associated with cruise ships, are more common than most people know, said Christine Myron, a public information officer for Central District Health Department. She said there are between four and 15 outbreaks a year in the department's four-county area, including Ada, Boise, Elmore and Valley counties. An outbreak is defined as two or more people from the same location becoming ill within a short time frame.

Myron said the department knew of five outbreaks already this year. In mid-February, the College of Western Idaho said in a press release that it evacuated its Ada County campus in Boise due to a report of norovirus. The building was thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated before employees and students were allowed back in.

Norovirus infects about 20 million Americans a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's often in places where people have close contact, including assisted living and daycare facilities. The agency has a whole website dedicated to the virus. The best way to avoid getting or spreading the virus: Handwashing.

"We see it every year, and it spikes in the winter," Myron said. Norovirus is a reportable disease in the state of Idaho - once a lab confirms it as such, it must be reported to the health department within 24 hours, she said.

Symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping. It typically runs its course in 24 to 48 hours.

After the quarantine is lifted at the VA's Community Living Center, family members will again be allowed in to visit patients. Ragsdale said 28 patients are currently in the Community Living Center; there are some hospice patients, but the average length of stay of others in the facility is about 23 to 24 days.

The outbreak has not affected residents of the nearby Idaho State Veterans Home, said spokesman Phil Hawkins. The facility is currently home to 166 veterans.

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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