A hospital in rural Japan is experiencing an outbreak of norovirus that has claimed the lives of six patients. Hospital officials made the announcement today, although the deaths began occurring on December 12.
Channel News Asia reports that the illness has infected staff and dozens of patients at the Shunko-kai Higashi Hospital in southern Miyazaki prefecture. The six victims were elderly male patients over the age of 70 and all died from gastroenteritis after contracting norovirus.
“Norovirus infection is characterized by nausea, forceful vomiting, watery diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and in some cases, loss of taste. General lethargy, weakness, muscle aches, headache, coughs, and low-grade fever may occur. The disease is usually self-limiting, and severe illness is rare. A small number of people die, mostly the very young, elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.”
The Japan Daily Press writes that 14 members of the hospital staff and 24 additional patients have contracted the illness. Five patients, with ages ranging from 76 to 90 years old, are considered to be in serious condition. The six men who succumbed to norovirus had been hospitalized for previous ailments such as stroke.
The deaths spurred a public apology from Shunko-kai Higashi Hospital officials who believe the spread of the illness was caused by an employee. They allege the caregiver wore one disposable apron throughout her shift rather than replacing it with each patient.
The norovirus is highly contagious and commonly passed along through person-to-person contact.
It is unclear why hospital officials in Japan did not publicly acknowledge the current norovirus outbreak until after the sixth death.