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Fergus Falls hospital restricts visitors due to gastrointestinal illness

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. - Lake Region Healthcare here is restricting hospital visitors because of a gastrointestinal illness in the area, officials said Tuesday.

The illness started showing up in the Fergus Falls community about three weeks ago, said JoAnn Bowman, an infection preventionist at the hospital.

Since then, it seems to have spread. Patients were admitted to the hospital over the weekend with symptoms of the illness, which include abdominal cramping with diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

The elderly population seems to be especially affected by the illness, which Bowman said could be the norovirus, known for causing quarantines of cruise ships.

"It's very contagious," she said. "It spreads so easily."

To protect patients already hospitalized, hospital officials decided to restrict visitors to immediate family over the age of 18.

"Our patients in the hospital are very vulnerable," Bowman said. "So we're just trying to be cautious."

Bowman couldn't say how long the restrictions would last, but said similar restrictions in the past typically lasted four to seven days.

The hospital usually has to restrict visitor access once or twice a year due to some sort of illness, she said, almost always during the winter season.

Officials will monitor hospital admissions and visits to the emergency room and clinics on a daily basis to determine when to lift restrictions, she said.

To avoid spreading the illness further, Bowman advises people experiencing its symptoms to stay home from school or work.

People should also stay home for 24 hours after their last symptom so they shed the virus completely, she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535