A new strain of norovirus is behind the worst outbreak in recent years currently sweeping through the Fraser Valley, says Fraser Health.
The virus crops up every winter but this year a new type, the Sydney strain that originated in Australia, is more wide-spread than usual because B.C. residents haven't built up an immunity, said Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma.
"We're all susceptible to the virus but every two to three years it changes a little bit," said Juma.
"Norovirus happens every winter but the number of cases vary and this year it's particularly high because people don't have immunity."
Those hit with the fast-acting, highly contagious virus usually suffer nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps that generally last 24 to 48 hours.
Reports of the disease are widespread throughout the Fraser Valley, including Abbotsford and Mission, said Juma.
However, neither Abbotsford Regional Hospital nor Mission Memorial Hospital or any other FH facilities have yet declared an outbreak, she said.
An outbreak is defined by three or more cases in a ward or unit within a four-day period.
However, that doesn't mean the situation won't change, said Juma.
"We expect to restrict access to wards as the virus moves through the community," she said.
"What's happening in care facilities and hospitals is a reflection of the virus' movement through our communities."
Ricky Kwan, CEO of Maplewood Seniors Care Society that runs MSA Manor and Maplewood House in Abbotsford, said the virus hit the facility in early October prior to the traditional flu season and any health authority warnings.
"We were able to control it but it caught us by surprise," said Kwan.
"This year it came so fast." A few residents in one wing were affected and subsequently isolated while the facility enhanced its infection protocols, increased staff hours and sanitization and cleaning routines.
"We were lucky. We had it under control within two weeks," said Kwan, adding the facilities don't currently have any cases of norovirus.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed. "We understand a lot of public facilities are being affected."
Unlike the flu, there is no available vaccine or antiviral medication to combat norovirus.
Juma stressed the best way to reduce the spread of the illness is for people to wash their hands frequently and to limit contact with other people should they get ill.
"If you're not well, please stay home, rest and drink plenty of liquids," she said.
Norovirus spreads easily through direct contact with an infected person, contaminated food or water or by touching surfaces or objects carrying the virus, such door handles.
The illness spreads especially fast in environments where people are in close contact such as schools, hospitals, day cares or nursing homes.
"We're not banning visitors by any means but if you're not feeling well and can avoid going to these sites, that's the best solution," said Juma.
Although it's a nasty virus, most people feel better within two or three days and suffer no lasting long-term health effects.
"Norovirus is very unpleasant. But if there is a silver lining, it's that it lasts 24 to 48 hours," said Juma.
? For more information on norovirus and its prevention visit http: //tinyurl.com/aefspbc.