Gastroenteritis outbreak in Garfield County

May 26, 2021

Garfield County Public Health and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) are investigating an increase of gastroenteritis illness in the county. Approximately 30 individuals have reported symptoms consistent with norovirus.

Norovirus is a common cause of viral gastroenteritis. These illnesses are highly contagious and can spread quickly in settings where people come in contact with contaminated food items or in settings where people share close contact, such as schools, childcare centers, and restaurants.

Gastrointestinal illnesses can cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps. Fortunately, most people get better on their own in one to three days, and typically do not require medical care.

People who became ill on or after May 7, 2021 are asked to complete a brief questionnaire to assist the health department in preventing additional spread of the virus.

“This outbreak appears to be primarily in the Carbondale area right now, but the Roaring Fork Valley is a tight-knit community and norovirus is very easy to spread, so it is possible that we could see other cases pop up,” said Rachel Kappler, Public Health Nurse.

“Norovirus is very common. It takes only a few viral particles to make a person sick and doesn’t die off surfaces without the use of bleach,” she said. “Norovirus is always around and commonly called the stomach bug or food poisoning.”

Those experiencing symptoms should not prepare food for others and limit contact with people until all symptoms are gone for at least 48 hours.

Over 200 reportable diseases require public health investigation and follow up in Colorado. The health department is working closely with several groups that have been impacted by this outbreak.

How it spreads
Gastroenteritis is extremely contagious. The virus is highly concentrated in diarrhea and or vomit of infected people. It typically spreads person-to-person through the fecal-oral route, such as when an infected person does not wash their hands properly after using the bathroom and then touches items or food that will be placed in someone’s mouth. Once a person gets exposed to someone with the virus, it can take anywhere from 12 to 48 hours to develop symptoms of illness. Approximately 30 percent of all individuals who have norovirus never develop symptoms but are contagious and can spread it to others.

Symptoms to watch for
Vomiting and diarrhea many times a day can lead to dehydration, especially in young children, older adults and people with other illnesses. Symptoms of dehydration include decreased urination, dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when standing up. Children who are dehydrated may cry with few or no tears and be unusually sleepy or fussy. It is important that people with gastroenteritis stay well hydrated.

The best way to stop the spread of gastroenteritis, is to properly wash hands and handle food safely. Surfaces and objects in contact with vomit or diarrhea should be washed with soap and hot water, and disinfected with a bleach solution or cleaned in a washing machine with detergent. A bleach solution with a concentration of 1000 to 5000 ppm (5 to 25 tablespoons of household bleach per gallon of water) is effective against norovirus. Wear gloves when cleaning, and wash hands carefully after any contact with contaminated objects or surfaces.

For more information on norovirus and other viral gastroenteritis, please visit the the CDC norovirus website, which includes FAQs, or call Garfield County Public Health at 970-625-5200 x 8128. People who became ill on or after May 7, 2021 are asked to complete a brief questionnaire to assist the department in preventing additional spread of the virus.

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