A viral illness that spread to dozens of workers at Good Samaritan Hospital over the past three weeks appears to have peaked, a hospital official said yesterday.
A few additional employees called in sick yesterday with gastrointestinal symptoms, far fewer than the numbers reporting the illness in recent weeks, the official said.
Despite this, the hospital continued to require visitors to wear masks and wash their hands before entering medical units. Employees caring for patients have been wearing gowns, masks and gloves.
Signs explaining the precautions greet visitors arriving at the hospital. The hospital also has set up stations outside medical units where visitors can don masks and wash their hands.
The precautions have a two-fold purpose - preventing visitors from infecting patients and patients from infecting visitors.
"It's a two-way street," said Ken Walsch, director of quality management at the hospital. "We're also taking the step of asking little children under 12 not to visit."
Though doctors are still awaiting the test results that should identify the virus, he said, they are virtually certain it is not influenza. While flu is mainly a respiratory illness, the ailment seen at Good Samaritan is gastrointestinal, producing vomiting and diarrhea.
Perhaps a dozen patients with these symptoms have come to the emergency room for care during the past three or four weeks, said Walsch. But the impact on staff has been far greater, with "several dozen" catching the illness and requiring time off to recuperate, Walsch said.
Typically, the symptoms ease in one to two days, he said. There have been no serious consequences, he said, though a few people have been admitted to the hospital.
Precautions like those adopted at Good Samaritan Hospital were recommended last fall by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a way of containing SARS or influenza outbreaks.