NOROVIRUS: 4 dead at possible outbreak at veteran's home - FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV

NOROVIRUS: 4 dead at possible outbreak at veteran's home

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

The Minnesota Department of Health is investigating after four residents of the Minnesota Veteran's Home in Minneapolis died amid what may be an outbreak of norovirus.

Even though test results have not yet confirmed the presence of norovirus, the facility where more than 300 aging vets live and receive care is now taking precautions to contain what could be a highly-contagious illness.

Health officials confirmed that although the average person will fall extremely ill and experience vomiting and diarrhea if they contract norovirus, it is rarely fatal; however, all those who died at the veteran's home were elderly and had serious health conditions.

"It would be unfair to say the cause of their death was directed by this virus," Michael Gallucci, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veteran's Affairs Health Service, told Fox 9 News. "They all had advanced dementia and Alzheimer's, and so they have a very complicated and fragile condition -- and of course, a little sick in those conditions, that could be a real problem."

A fifth veteran has also been hospitalized.

FIRST CASE FOUND FRIDAY

The first suspected case of norovirus was discovered last Friday, but it was thought to be an isolated illness until 35 other residents and 20 employees at the nursing home also were sickened with similar symptoms.

"As we progressed into the weekend, we also had about 20 employees that had called in complaining of flu-like symptoms," Gallucci explained.

Most of the cases were contained to building 19, a new facility that opened just last year. Some of those who died were staying in "comfort care," which is similar to hospice.

That facility is currently being cleaned, and Gallucci says employees are being asked to stay home even after they feel better.

"Employees who call in -- not only are we asking them to stay out until they feel a bit better, but we're asking them to stay out another 48 hours after that," he said.

WASH HANDS OFTEN

Health officials say the best way to protect yourself is to wash your hands after using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been about 43 outbreaks of norovirus across the state. More than half have occurred in nursing homes or similar facilities.

Earlier this week, a Caribou Coffee location in Brooklyn Park reopened after an apparent outbreak there sickened several members of a cheer squad.

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