Outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis are common especially in residential care settings and child care centres. Outbreaks are controlled by good hygiene, isolation of ill patients and disinfection.

Last updated: 07 February 2008

Viral gastroenteritis outbreaks

Viral gastroenteritis is highly infectious and outbreaks are very common and can be difficult to control. Outbreaks often occur in institutional settings such as nursing homes, hospitals, child care centres and schools. There are several things you can do to help reduce the spread of infection.

Hand washing

The following precautions should be in place to ensure thorough hand washing:

  • Make sure that hand washing facilities are available for staff, students, residents and visitors.
  • Alert staff, students, residents and visitors to the outbreak and the need for thorough and frequent hand washing, and post hand washing signs in toilet and care areas.
  • Staff and visitors should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 15 seconds and dry their hands with a disposable or clean towel, even if they have been wearing gloves:
    • Before and after any patient care
    • After contact with a person with gastroenteritis
    • After going to the toilet
    • After changing nappies
    • Before eating or preparing/handling food.

Isolation and restriction

The following precautions should be taken to isolate and restrict the spread of gastroenteritis:

  • Cases that reside in an institution should be cohorted (separated from non-infected residents) if possible. This includes separate facilities for hand washing, toilet and bathroom.
  • Avoid the transfer of patients between and within institutions until the outbreak is over. Where a case must be transferred for hospital care, the hospital should be told about the outbreak in advance.
  • Staff members with gastroenteritis who care for patients, prepare food or assist in the feeding of patients should be excluded from these activities for 48 hours after their symptoms have ceased.
  • Visitors should be discouraged from attending the premises while the outbreak is occurring.
  • If the outbreak continues and new admissions are considered to be at risk of infection, consider closing the facility to new admissions

Cleaning

  • Surfaces or objects that have been exposed to vomit or faeces must be thoroughly cleaned as soon as possible.
  • Wash the surface or object with hot water and a neutral detergent.
  • Where possible, disinfect hard surfaces and objects with freshly prepared hypochlorite 1,000 ppm (0.1 per cent) solution.
  • Allow objects to dry thoroughly after they have been cleaned.

Protect yourself

  • When handling vomit or faeces, wear disposable gloves, mask and impermeable protective clothing (eg. a plastic apron). Protective eyewear should be worn if there is potential for splash from blood or body fluids.
  • Use disposable towels to remove faeces and vomitus, and seal in a plastic bag before disposing of them in clinical waste.
  • Wash your hands after you have removed gloves and protective clothing.

Notification

Managers of facilities where an outbreak of viral gastroenteritis is occurring should:

  • Report the outbreak to their local Public Health Unit. Staff can provide advice and assistance on controlling further spread, samples that should be collected, and the type of testing that should be carried out
  • Document the number of cases, dates of onset, duration of symptoms and report to their local Public Health Unit

Related document

Viral Gastroenteritis Factsheet

For further information please call your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055