Statewide norovirus outbreak spares Beaufort County ... for now

gmartin@islandpacket.comMarch 1, 2012 

  • Primary symptoms:

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Secondary symptoms:

  • Headache

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Muscle aches

While South Carolina health officials continue to investigate outbreaks of a highly contagious, flu-like virus throughout the state, they say it has yet to be reported in Beaufort County.

But that doesn't mean it's not here.

Those afflicted with this strand, or norovirus, typically exhibit symptoms of nausea and diarrhea, often accompanied by a low-grade fever, headache and chills.

It's not as severe as it might sound, said Amy Roach, a regional epidemiologist for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

"It's a self-limiting illness, meaning that it's something the body can take care of on its own," she said, adding that the symptoms usually subside within 48 hours.

But it is highly contagious, and DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick said his agency has investigated about four times the number of statewide outbreaks in 2012 than in the same period last year, though none has occurred locally.

"Just because we're not aware of it doesn't mean it's not going on," said DHEC spokeswoman Linda Pranger.

She said most private medical clinicians are likely to diagnose the illness as a "viral gastroenteritis" -- a stomach flu -- rather than submit patients' samples to a state lab for formal identification.

There are only a handful of statewide labs for that purpose, she explained, adding that clinics aren't inclined to spend money on a sample submission to identify a relatively benign illness.

"There could be norovirus cases in Beaufort County on an individual basis," she said, "but we only investigate breakouts in an institution, like a school or nursing home."

Local school nurses said they haven't seen an increase in flu-like symptoms.

"We're seeing some sore throats, but nothing out of the ordinary right now," said Terry Nash, a nurse at Mossy Oaks Elementary in Beaufort.

Meg Hendy at Bluffton Middle School concurred, saying she hasn't seen any recent cases of the "tummy bug."

But local urgent-care facilities recently reported a modest increase in patients suffering from those symptoms.

A nurse at Doctors Express in Beaufort said an unusually high number of people have been showing up with flu-like symptoms.

"A fair amount of people have come in the past few weeks complaining of a fever, vomiting and diarrhea," said Dr. Karen Fawcett of Lowcountry Urgent Care on Lady's Island. "It could well be the norovirus. But we just give them an (intravenous tube), and usually they're ready to get back on the golf course by the next day."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

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