NSW Health warns of unusual rise in viral gastroenteritis

NSW Health isurging the community to wash their hands and to stay home if sick amid anunseasonal rise in viral gastroenteritis cases.

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

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

The number ofpeople seeking treatment for gastroenteritis at EDs has also risen above usuallevels, with 2,557 people seeking medical attention in the last week. Almost aquarter were children under five years old, and 644 people were admitted fortreatment.

Ms KeiraGlasgow, Manager of Enteric and Zoonotic Diseases at NSW Health, saidgastroenteritis is easily spread by direct contact with an infected person ifthey haven’t carefully washed their hands, especially after using the toilet orbefore handling food.

“With Christmasaround the corner, it is particularly important to pay attention to handwashing to prevent the spread of infection. Young children often need specialassistance to make sure they are washing their hands properly,” Ms Glasgowsaid.

She said increases of viralgastroenteritis during summer are unusual in NSW, with peaks normally occurringin spring.

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

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

· LeaveChristmas food preparation to others

· Stayhome from school or child care

· Stayhome from work, particularly if it involves food handling, looking afterchildren, the elderly or patients

· Avoidvisiting hospitals and aged care facilities, to protect the most vulnerable.

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

The main treatment for viralgastroenteritis is rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Most people recoverwithout complications but it can be serious for infants, people with suppressedimmune systems and the elderly.

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