NSW Health renews gastro warning following outbreaks

Gastro stock image
There has been an increase in viral gastroenteritis notifications and emergency department presentations in hospitals across the state.

NSW Health is renewing calls to people suffering from gastroenteritis to stay home and follow medical advice after a spate of outbreaks in aged care facilities and childcare centres.

There were 39 outbreaks of gastroenteritis in institutions from 20-26 August, including 10 in aged care facilities, 22 in child care centres, five in hospitals and two in schools, affecting at least 348 people.

This is 120 per cent higher, more than double, the previous five year weekly average number of outbreaks for August.

NSW Health communicable diseases director Dr Vicky Sheppeard said the outbreaks appear to have been caused by viral gastroenteritis including rotavirus and norovirus, which spread easily from person to person.

“Gastroenteritis is highly infectious so it’s vital that those infected stay home from work and keep sick children home from school or childcare for at least 24 hours after the last symptoms have stopped,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“If your work involves handling food or looking after children, the elderly or patients, do not return to work until 48 hours after symptoms have stopped.

“The best defence against gastroenteritis is to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 10 seconds before handling and eating food, and after using the toilet, changing nappies or assisting someone who has diarrhoea or vomiting.”

Symptoms of gastro include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain, headache and muscle aches. They can take between one and three days to develop and usually last between one and two days, sometimes longer.

All children should receive rotavirus vaccine at six weeks and four months of age. This vaccine is around 70 per cent effective in preventing rotavirus infection, and more than 85 per cent effective in preventing severe gastroenteritis in infants. It is expected to give protection for up to five years. Rotavirus vaccine is free for all children and available with routine vaccines under the National Immunisation Program.

People who are sick with gastroenteritis are advised to:

  • Avoid visiting hospitals or aged care facilities to prevent spreading the virus
  • Wash their hands with soap and running water for at least 10 seconds after using the toilet and before touching food
  • Stay home, rest and drink plenty of fluids to alleviate dehydration
  • Visit a GP if symptoms are severe or persistent.

For more information, visit the NSW Health website for factsheets on gastroenteritis.

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