Two Dead, 59 Sick after Viral Outbreak at Mill Valley

Two elderly residents died at The Redwoods, with the norovirus a possible contributing factor though not the cause of the deaths.

Two elderly patients died at The Redwoods residential care facility in Mill Valley and 59 others are sick following a norovirus outbreak.

Both patients that died were females over the age of 85, that also suffered from other conditions besides the norovirus symptoms, and were in a ‘do not do not resuscitate ’ status, said Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matthew Willis.

They died at the facility, but the virus has spread through all sectors of the center, and a total of six people were taken to Marin General Hospital primarily for dehydration issues.

“It’s like influenza or the common cold,” Willis said. “It’s only in the very frail that it represents a threat. It’s not a deadly disease.”

In the last two months there have been three norovirus outbreaks, with the one at The Redwoods being the largest. A woman at the facility said someone wouldn't be able to comment until next week.

Sometimes called “stomach flu” or “cruise ship illness,” symptoms include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and usually last for 48 – 72 hours. It’s highly contagious with increased cases during the winter months, and is common in community environments like nursing homes, schools and daycare centers. 

The Redwoods epidemic occurred on Dec. 24, and peaked on Dec. 26 with 11 cases. It’s been decreasing since then, with once case reported on Thursday, January 3.  With more than 300 patients at the facility, the virus normally affects 10 to 30 percent of a community, so spreading to 59 people isn’t unusual, Willis said.

“It’s normal for this size,” he said. “This doesn’t reflect any breach in standards at The Redwoods.” 

There’s no vaccine or specific treatment, so prevention is key, Willis said. He recommends hand washing, staying home from work or school when you’re sick, disinfecting surfaces, washing laundry thoroughly, and not preparing food or caring for others when you’re sick.  

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