The Linda Vista Nursing & Rehabilitation Center on Maple Street in Ashland has been coping with a suspected outbreak of norovirus during what Jackson County health officials said is a bad year for the virus in the area.

The Linda Vista Nursing & Rehabilitation Center on Maple Street in Ashland has been coping with a suspected outbreak of norovirus during what Jackson County health officials said is a bad year for the virus in the area.

In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon in response to media inquiries, Linda Vista Administrator and spokeswoman Brenda Thornton said people at the center began noticing on March 12 that a number of staff members and residents were demonstrating symptoms similar to stomach flu or food poisoning.

Preliminary testing indicates the illness was caused by norovirus, she said.

County health officials would not confirm that norovirus infected the nursing center but said they have responded to two norovirus outbreaks at public facilities so far this year.

Officials said they have also heard of outbreaks among individuals.

"We're not confirming that they have norovirus, but we will confirm that there have been a lot of norovirus cases," said Susan Bizeau, a communicable disease nurse with Jackson County. "We have it every year, but this looks like a worse year in our area."

Norovirus is a common illness that causes vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps, Bizeau said.

"There's nothing wrong with a nursing home that has it," she said. "This can happen to anyone."

Bizeau said norovirus can spread quickly in families, churches, schools and other settings.

It is perhaps best known for infecting cruise ships, although cruise ship companies have improved their ability to prevent outbreaks, Bizeau said.

Facilities have to be wiped down with a bleach solution to combat the virus, she said.

Jackson County assists nursing homes and restaurants deal with norovirus outbreaks, she said.

"We don't track it unless it's at a restaurant or a nursing home. It's so common it would be like the equivalent of tracking the common cold," Bizeau said.

At Linda Vista, Thornton said the center immediately notified the Oregon Department of Health when symptoms developed. The center has been working with the department to stop the spread of the infection.

Local officials have since declared that the center is clear of the virus, Thornton said in the statement, which was released on Tuesday afternoon.

Linda Vista is currently accepting visitors and new residents, she said.

"The health and well-being of our residents is paramount and we are glad to see that residents and staff have returned to good health," Thornton said.

She said Linda Vista is not the first facility in the local area to experience the virus. She did not name any other infected facilities.

"The steps that we've taken include procedures to isolate symptomatic residents, practice vigilant hand-hygiene, limit interaction with visitors, and to follow stringent protocols for meal service to prevent further contamination," Thornton said in the statement, noting that the center continues to increase its existing internal illness-control procedures to emphasize prevention.

She recommended that everyone in the community practice frequent hand-washing.

Linda Vista is following steps that are also recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for health care settings.

Among other actions, the CDC recommends isolating infected patients individually or in groups for at least 48 hours after the resolution of symptoms, as well as suspending group activities like eating in dining areas.

Speaking by phone from inside Linda Vista earlier this week, a woman resident said the center was doing a good job in responding to the outbreak.

However, the illness and precautions have been hard on residents, said the woman, who asked not to be named.

"We're essentially in quarantine," she said. "Appropriate actions are being taken to control the virus. People are not allowed out of their rooms. It's being handled well, but it's an ordeal for us residents."

The woman said the isolation is difficult.

"Most people enjoy the option of going to the dining room under normal circumstances and seeing the world, so to speak," she said. "They can visit with their friends and see views of the mountains. But the dining room is closed."

The woman said guests who came to visit her this week were sent home almost as soon as they arrived.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.