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Virginia Health Department Forecasts Seasonal ‘Stomach Bug’

Statewide data monitored by the Virginia Department of Health indicate that norovirus was arriving in Virginia just in time for the cold weather.

Commonly referred to as "the stomach flu," norovirus is a highly contagious gastrointestinal virus that causes vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping. Norovirus circulates throughout the year in Virginia; however, illness typically increases during the winter months.

As part of the Commonwealth’s statewide readiness efforts, the state’s health department has historically studied disease dynamics by analyzing data received from emergency departments and urgent care centers. "By tracking current disease surveillance data and applying that to established historical data trends, our experts are able to define baselines and thresholds for disease activity and make evidence-based predictions of when certain seasonal illnesses, like norovirus, will increase," said State Health Commissioner Cynthia C. Romero, MD, FAAFP. "Based on current data analysis, we expect to see an increase in norovirus illness and outbreaks in Virginia."

Last season the Virginia Department of Health investigated 184 norovirus outbreaks statewide in a variety of settings. Because the virus can significantly impact facilities such as day care centers, prisons/jails, schools and nursing homes, local health districts work closely with these facilities to minimize the severity of outbreaks and help prevent future outbreaks.

Although norovirus infection can cause a great deal of discomfort, it usually goes away on its own without requiring hospital care. Replacing lost fluids is key to preventing dehydration, especially in children and the elderly. People who become severely dehydrated should seek medical care.

Because norovirus is so infectious and can survive on surfaces for prolonged periods, it is important to take steps to limit the spread of the virus. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Wash hands often with warm water and soap
  • Disinfect contaminated surfaces with bleach-based household cleaners
  • Wash soiled clothing and linens with hot water and detergent
  • Stay at home and do not prepare food for others when you are sick to avoid spreading the illness to others

For more details about preventing norovirus, visit

www.cdc.gov/norovirus/preventing-infection.html.

Additional information about norovirus is available at www.vdh.virginia.gov/Epidemiology/factsheets/pdf/Norovirus.pdf.

Develop a Personal Health Record

To keep track of all the information in your medical charts at various doctors, it's a good idea to keep your own personal health record. Here is a list of the kind of information a personal health record might contain, provided by MedLine Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

  • Your name, birth date, blood type, and emergency contact information
  • Date of last physical
  • Dates and results of tests and screenings
  • Major illnesses and surgeries, with dates
  • A list of medicines and supplements, the dosages, and how long they’ve been taken
  • Any allergies
  • Any chronic diseases
  • Any history of illnesses in the family

A personal health record can save money and time if it prevents duplicate tests. It can protect against problems with medications, allergies and certain procedures. Most importantly, having this information available in an emergency can make it possible to get help more quickly.

A personal health record can collect health information in a single system as simple as a paper form, in a phone or web-based application or be maintained on your computer or tablet. An internet search using the terms "personal health record," will show that there are many organizations and sites that sponsor free access to electronic or paper personal health records.

Fairfax County’s Long Term Care Coordination Council developed an accessible and downloadable PHR in PDF format designed for ordinary inkjet or laser printers and can be printed either single-sided or double-sided. The council welcomes local community groups and employers to download, reproduce, and disseminate the personal health record to wider audiences.

www.fairfaxcounty.gov/hd/ltccc/ltcpdf/personal-health-record.pdf.

More Flu, Changes in Hospital Visitation

Due to increased flu-like illness activity Inova Alexandria Hospital, Inova Fairfax Medical Campus and Inova Fair Oaks Hospital have instituted temporary changes to their visitation policy effective Jan. 22, 2014.

These temporary measures apply to all visitors until further notice: no visitors under the age of 16; no visitors with any symptoms of influenza-like illness; limit of two visitors at a time for each patient; visitors may be issued masks for use while visiting and asked to wash hands frequently; for Women’s and Children’s, Adult Critical Care, and Oncology patients additional measures may apply.

A patient care companion is not a visitor, and is allowed to stay with the patient.

"These temporary measures will help protect against influenza infection of the most vulnerable among us, including inpatients with compromised immune systems as well as our caregivers," said Loring Flint, MD, Inova’s Chief Medical Officer.

Free Joint Replacements Done at Inova Mount Vernon

On Dec. 7, orthopedic surgeons at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital provided free hip and/or knee replacements to 10 patients from the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, as part of Operation Walk USA.

Currently in its third year, Operation Walk USA, an independent medical charitable organization, provides all aspects of knee and hip replacement treatment — surgery, hospitalization, and pre-and post-operative care — at no cost to patients who may not qualify for government assistance, have insurance or afford surgery on their own.

While more than one million hip and knee replacements are performed in the U.S. each year, countless men and women continue to live with severe arthritic pain and immobility because they cannot afford joint replacement surgery.

"Inova Mount Vernon Hospital staff and physicians have supported Operation Walk USA since its inception in 2011. This is a wonderful cause and I’m extremely proud of the physicians and staff who volunteer to participate in this program. Participation in Operation Walk USA is a perfect example of how we at Inova live our mission, of caring for and about people," said Don Brideau, MD, Interim CEO, Inova Mount Vernon Hospital.

Operation Walk USA is a volunteer effort on behalf of more than 120 volunteer orthopedic surgeons and 70 participating hospitals in 32 states. Volunteers treated more than 230 patients, and that is twice the number of patients and orthopedic surgeons in Operation Walk USA in 2011, the first year of the program.

Arthritic disease is the most common cause of disability in the U.S., affecting approximately 48 million Americans, or more than 21 percent of the adult population. The debilitating pain of end-stage hip or knee degenerative disease often makes working, or completing even the simplest of daily tasks, excruciatingly painful or impossible. Hip and knee replacement surgeries are the most cost-effective and successful of all orthopedic procedures, eliminating pain and allowing patients to resume active, productive lives.

Funding Available for Organizations Serving Summer Meals to Virginia Children

The Virginia Department of Health is looking for financially viable organizations that can serve meals to children during the summer months. Organizations that participate in the Summer Food Service Program will be reimbursed by the state’s department of health for the meals that are served. Participating sponsors will also be reimbursed for certain allowable administrative costs associated with serving the meals. In addition, all participating organizations receive technical assistance from Virginia Department of Health staff. All participating sponsors are required to attend the Summer Food Service Program training provided by the health department. Training dates will be publicized on Summer Food Service Program website www.vahealth.org/DCN/GeneralInfo/sfsp.htm when finalized.

Deadline to apply for this year’s Summer Food Service Program is April 25, 2014.

Virginia’s children need and deserve nutritious meals continuously throughout the year to maintain healthy minds and bodies. Hunger is one of the most severe roadblocks to an individual’s learning process. Lack of access to nutritional meals during the summer sets the stage for a student’s poor performance once the next school year begins. Childhood hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation. The Summer Food Service Program fills the nutrition gap when school’s out and children do not have access to the National School Lunch or School Breakfast Programs.

Virginia’s Summer Food Service Program operates in schools, public housing centers, community centers, playgrounds, camps, parks and churches. Sponsors that may qualify for this program include: public or private nonprofit schools; local, municipal, county, state or federal governments; public or private nonprofit residential summer camps; and private nonprofit organizations including faith- or community-based organizations.

Organizations interested in obtaining more information about the Summer Food Service Program or in requesting an application to participate should call 1-877-618-7282 or visit www.vahealth.org/DCN/GeneralInfo/sfsp.htm.

If becoming a sponsor is not a good fit, but an organization is interested in feeding children in a specific area during the summer months, please consider partnering with an existing sponsor and participating as a meal site under that sponsor. Call Virginia Department of Health at 1-877-618-7282 and ask for a list of existing sponsors in your area that may be able to add your organization as a meal location.