More than 1600 people attended NSW emergency departments with gastroenteritis in the past week, a 14 per cent increase on the usual number for this time of year. More than 400 of these people were admitted to hospital, which is also above the usual range for this time of year.
Statewide since the start of June 2016, 56 gastro outbreaks in nursing homes, hospitals and child care centres have been reported, affecting at least 550 people. Of these, norovirus was detected as the cause in 10 outbreaks.
NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said viral gastroenteritis is highly infectious and often spread via direct contact with an infected person.
“These outbreaks are mostly caused by infection with a virus – most often norovirus or rotavirus– and spread easily from person to person, particularly if hands are not carefully washed after using the toilet or attending to nappy changes,” Dr Chant said.
“Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain, headache and muscle aches. These symptoms can take between one and three days to develop and usually last between one and two days, sometimes longer.
“The best way to reduce your chances of getting viral gastroenteritis is to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 10 seconds, particularly after using the toilet, assisting someone with diarrhoea or vomiting, attending nappy changes and before preparing and eating food.
“It is vital that if you or your family contract gastroenteritis that you stay home from work or keep a child home from school or childcare if they are sick for at least 24 hours after the last symptom of gastroenteritis.
“People who are sick with gastroenteritis should not visit hospitals or aged care facilities to avoid spreading the virus in vulnerable settings.
“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.
“We urge infected people not to prepare food for others until at least 48 hours after they have completely recovered and then to double check their hygiene is perfect.
“Dehydration often follows bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea, particularly in young children, so people with the virus should rest well and increase the amount of fluids they drink. If people are concerned they should see their local GP,” Dr Chant said.