Virus outbreak hits MH facility

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An outbreak of an intestinal virus at a local nursing home has
kept residents in and visitors out for almost two weeks.
An outbreak of an intestinal virus at a local nursing home has kept residents in and visitors out for almost two weeks.

Since Jan. 15, about 50 senior citizen residents of Pacific Hills Manor, 370 Noble Court near Dunne and Peak avenues in west Morgan Hill, have been diagnosed with norovirus, a highly contagious stomach bug, according to Pacific Hills Executive Director Valerie Alves. About 15 staff members have also been infected by the virus.

Pacific Hills reported the outbreak to the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health Jan. 19.

As a result, the facility has not allowed visitors at its facilities, and has canceled group and social activities that might cause the virus to spread among residents, Alves said. Plus, they have added more bleach to their cleaning solutions, as the chemical can kill the bacteria that carry the virus.

The facility will likely keep these precautions in place until at least 48 hours after the last patient recovers from the virus. Alves said the latest case at Pacific Hills was reported Monday morning.

The local public health department has worked with the private facility on education and containment efforts, according to Santa Clara County public health spokeswoman Joy Alexiou.

The county responded by sending a nurse to collect samples and confirm the illness was caused by norovirus, and has instructed Pacific Hills staff on how to minimize the virus’s spread.

“Once it exists, you need to eliminate it,” Alexiou said.

The non-life threatening bug, which causes flu-like symptoms for up to 48 hours, has a tendency to spread like “wildfire,” Alves said. Staff and health officials have not been able to identify where the current outbreak originated.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and Pacific Hills staff have treated the patients at the Morgan Hill facility. None of the local norovirus victims have been hospitalized.

Pacific Hills is a nursing facility licensed by the California Department of Health. They are required to report outbreaks such as the current norovirus outbreak to the licensee and the county health offices.

Despite the extra cleaning and socializing precautions at the facility, containing the virus has been difficult because it can be airborne, Alves noted.

Pacific Hills has about 60 permanent residents, plus another 40 beds for short-term rehabilitative care patients, Alves said. Norovirus victims have been among both categories.

Norovirus outbreaks are fairly common in Santa Clara County. Alexiou said about “one or two facilities” report norovirus outbreaks every month.

“Norovirus (reports) are fairly commonplace. We see them year-round, but more often in the winter months,” Alexiou said.