01 October 2015

NSW Health is warning the peak of the viral gastroenteritis season is approaching, with recent increases in cases in the community, childcare centres and aged care facilities.

Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director of the Communicable Diseases Branch, NSW Health, said outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis occur seasonally, and this is when rotavirus and norovirus are commonly circulating in the community.

A second peak of viral gastroenteritis is usually observed at the beginning of each year, coinciding with the intake of new children to early childhood centres.

“Although the cause of most outbreaks in institutions is not diagnosed, all outbreaks occurring in institutions in the past month appear to have been caused by viruses that spread easily from person to person,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain, headache, and muscle aches and usually last between one and two days, sometimes longer,” she said.

“Illness can worsen quickly in children and the elderly, so if people are concerned they should see their local GP.”

During September, 63 outbreaks in institutions (including childcare centres, nursing homes and hospitals) were reported, affecting at least 803 people. However, the number of outbreaks reported is lower than the monthly September average of 73 outbreaks seen in the previous five years.

“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 after using the toilet or changing nappies,” said Dr Sheppeard.

“We advise staying home from work and keeping children home from school or childcare when sick. 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. Protect the elderly in aged care facilities by not visiting if you or your children are affected by gastro.”

For more information, visit http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/gastroenteritis/Pages/default.aspx