Public Health Alert: Gastroenteritis outbreaks in childcare settings

a mother caring for her sick daughter
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on

Parents are being urged to keep children at home if they are unwell following a substantial increase in the number of gastroenteritis outbreaks in childcare being reported to NSW Health.

NSW Health Executive Director of Health Protection Dr Richard Broome said 156 outbreaks of gastroenteritis in early childhood education centres were reported in NSW in February.

“Almost 1,000 children and more than 210 staff members have been affected to date, a 97 per cent increase above the number normally reported for the month of February,” Dr Broome said.

“NSW Health has notified the directors of NSW early childhood education services to an increase in viral gastroenteritis outbreaks and since then there have been further notifications of gastroenteritis outbreaks across the sector.”

Viral gastroenteritis is highly infectious. Viruses are spread from the vomit or stool (faeces) of an infected person. This can occur when cleaning up body fluids, during person-to-person contact, sharing of contaminated objects and occasionally inhaling airborne particles when people vomit.

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.

Advice for parents and caregivers includes:

  • Keep children experiencing gastroenteritis home from childcare services and school. Children should not return until 48 hours have passed since their last symptom.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and running water, particularly after changing nappies, assisting someone with diarrhoea and/or vomiting and before preparing food. Alcohol hand sanitiser is generally less effective than soap and water but can be used if these are not available.
  • Immediately and thoroughly clean contaminated surfaces with hot, soapy water and then disinfect the area using a household disinfectant. If possible, disinfect with a freshly made sodium hypochlorite (bleach) solution, prepared according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Immediately remove and wash clothing or linen that may be contaminated with stool or vomit (use hot water and detergent).
  • Wear gloves and a mask when cleaning up bodily fluids, including vomit.

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

Information on how to prevent the spread of gastroenteritis can be found here.