NSW Health warns of unusual rise in viral gastroenteritis

NSW Health is urging the community to wash their hands and to stay home if sick amid an unseasonal rise in viral gastroenteritis cases.

The warning has been prompted by a high number of gastroenteritis outbreaks at child care centres across the state and an increase in people seeking treatment for the highly-contagious infection at hospital emergency departments (EDs).

By 17 December, 86 child care centres had reported outbreaks of gastroenteritis to NSW Health when normally around 20 would be reported over the whole month. Almost 550 children and 140 staff have fallen ill during these outbreaks.

The number of people seeking treatment for gastroenteritis at EDs has also risen above usual levels, with 2,557 people seeking medical attention in the last week. Almost a quarter were children under five years old, and 644 people were admitted for treatment.

Ms Keira Glasgow, Manager of Enteric and Zoonotic Diseases at NSW Health, said gastroenteritis is easily spread by direct contact with an infected person if they haven’t carefully washed their hands, especially after using the toilet or before handling food.

“With Christmas around the corner, it is particularly important to pay attention to hand washing to prevent the spread of infection. Young children often need special assistance to make sure they are washing their hands properly,” Ms Glasgow said.

She said increases of viral gastroenteritis during summer are unusual in NSW, with peaks normally occurring in spring.

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

Anyone who has been unwell with vomiting or diarrhoea should adhere to the following advice until 48 hours after symptoms have ceased, to prevent spread of infection:

  • Leave Christmas food preparation to others
  • Stay home from school or child care
  • Stay home from work, particularly if it involves food handling, looking after children, the elderly or patients
  • Avoid visiting hospitals and aged care facilities, to protect the most vulnerable.

Viral gastroenteritis symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain, headache and muscle aches. They can take up to three days to develop and usually last between one or two days, and sometimes longer.

The main treatment for viral gastroenteritis is rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Most people recover without complications but it can be serious for infants, people with suppressed immune systems and the elderly.

For more information visit the NSW Health website.