British Columbia's worst noro-virus outbreak in recent years has swept across the Fraser Valley, including Chilliwack, according to Fraser Health.
Norovirus affects sufferers' gastrointestinal systems, with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diar-rhea and stomach cramps. While those symptoms usually subside in one to three days and the virus is rarely dangerous, it is extremely contagious.
And this year's norovirus is even worse, thanks to a new strain- against which people have not built up an immunity-that has spread around the world this winter.
"The norovirus for the moment is very widespread throughout all our communities," Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma said. "It's very easily transmitted. What we're seeing right now is hundreds of cases across the region."
Juma said the virus has been detected in Fraser Health hospitals and residential care homes. But Fraser Health said it has not yet had to declare an "outbreak" in any of its facilities-outbreaks are declared when a unit or ward experiences three or more cases.
"Yes we have noro in Chilliwack, but we have noro everywhere," Juma said. "It's as easily transmitted as you coughing on your hand and touching a doorknob and someone else touching the doorknob and then touching their face."
The Coastal Health Authority has not been so lucky. It closed one acute care ward last week and enacted containment protocol at two other sites to try and stop the spread of the virus.
In Chilliwack, the Birchwood Retirement Suites was forced to deal with an outbreak of its own. On Friday, general manager April MacK-enzie said it seemed like the worst was over. She said that at one point, around 15 residents were exhibiting symptoms of the virus.
The Birchwood has limited activities for residents and scaled up sanitization and hand-washing vigilance. The facility has also been restricting visitors from the community, and a sign declaring the outbreak greets those arriving at the building's doors.
For Fraser Health, the declaration of an outbreak triggers a variety of automatic procedures, from increased cleaning and sanitary precautions to the divvying up of staff, so nurses do not deal with both infected and non-infected patients.
Until then, for hospital staff and those in the community, Juma said "hand hygiene is the best way to deal with noro."
Those who do contract the virus should stay home from work and restrict contact with others.
"If you really are exhibiting symptoms, do stay home," she pleaded.
The virus should pass, but if a visit to hospital is required, a person should immediately identify his or her symptoms.
Even after the symptoms abate, Juma said a person can still be infectious and should limit contact with others and wash their hands regularly.