HELENA – St. Peter’s Health leaders announced Friday that they will implement new temporary visitor restrictions to prevent the spread of norovirus.
Jon Scallan, St. Peter’s director of quality, said they have seen a recent increase in norovirus cases among their patients, and several hospital employees have reported symptoms. While there have been fewer than ten cases so far, he said they want to be abundantly careful.
“Even though we’ve not reached double digits, when we start to see what looks like it could turn into a big prevalence in the community, we do everything that we possibly can to contain that,” he said.
Anyone who is experiencing norovirus sympstoms – which include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach pain, fever and body aches – will not be allowed at the St. Peter’s Regional Medical Center unless they are looking for care. No visitors, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms, will be allowed in the hospital’s medical or surgical units unless they are visiting a person in end-of-life care.
The restrictions will remain in place until at least 8 a.m. Monday, when leaders will reevaluate them.
“The hope is that we can see this start to trail off over the weekend, and by Monday we can lift those restrictions and resume regular visitor hours,” Scallan said. “But we are going to be very, very cautious.”
Norovirus is considered very contagious,. It can spread easily through direct contact with an infected person, touching a contaminated surface, or eating food that has been prepared by an infected person. Scallan said many of their patients have compromised immune systems, so it is especially important to prevent them from being exposed.
Leaders say the best way to reduce the spread of norovirus is to wash your hands regularly with soap and water. You also should not prepare food for other people while you are sick or for two days after symptoms stop. Anyone who has norovirus symptoms should stay home and keep hydrated.
Scallan said St. Peter’s Health understands the restrictions will be frustrating.
“We do not take visitor restrictions lightly,” he said. “This is an inconvenience to our community, it’s an inconvenience to our doctors, to the hospital as a whole. This is something that really we try to avoid as much as we possibly can, but ultimately what drives it is the safety of all the people that we take care of.”
A spokesperson for Lewis and Clark Public Health said Friday that the agency was aware of several norovirus cases earlier this week that had all been linked to a single facility. She said the facility was taking all the steps needed to address the issue.
Public Health leaders said it is not uncommon for Lewis and Clark County to experience some limited spikes in norovirus cases and, at this time, they do not believe the community at large should be alarmed.
For more information on Norovirus, and how to prevent the spread of the disease, log on to the Lewis and Clark Public Health website.