October 13, 2005

Virus blamed for stomach flu in Houston shelters

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A virus that thrives in crowded,
unsanitary environments may have caused an outbreak of stomach
flu among Hurricane Katrina survivors and relief workers in
Houston, health officials said on Thursday.

A medical clinic set up at Houston's Reliant Park treated
more than 1,000 people with diarrhea, vomiting or both symptoms
between September 2 and September 12, according to a report
released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

No deaths were reported.

Reliant Park, which includes the Astrodome and a convention
center, was housing about 10 percent of the estimated 240,000
Gulf Coast residents who fled to Houston in the week after the
hurricane hit in late August.

Some of those sickened were police officers, medical
personnel and volunteers. Investigators said they suspected a
norovirus, the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis
outbreaks in the United States, had led to the illnesses.

These viruses tend to proliferate in crowded settings, such
as cruise ships, camps and hospital wards, often spreading
through person-to-person contact. Some people do not become ill
when infected.

"Conditions that might have facilitated virus transmission
included crowding, insufficient sanitation in lavatories, lack
of an adequate number of hand-washing facilities and delays in
cleaning and decontaminating soiled areas and bedding," the
investigators said in the report.