Spike in gastroenteritis cases for NSW children prompts health department warning
The New South Wales Department of Health (NSW Health) is alerting parents and carers, including those caring for children in early childhood education and care (ECEC) services to the need to practice careful hygiene, and ensuring sick children are prevented from attending ECEC services, in the wake of a rise in viral gastroenteritis cases.
The warning has been prompted by gastroenteritis outbreaks at childcare centres across NSW and a high number of children aged under five seeking treatment for the highly-contagious infection, at levels above the statistical average for this time of year.
Nearly 1,000 cases of the viral illness have been reported by 109 ECEC services since February, with over 200 staff in the services also falling ill during the outbreaks. The number of children presenting to emergency departments for treatment in relation to viral gastroenteritis has also risen above usual levels, with 559 children seeking medical attention in the past week.
Acting Manager of Enteric and Zoonotic Diseases at NSW Health Keira Glasgow said gastroenteritis was often spread by direct contact with an infected person, with viral gastroenteritis usually caused by norovirus or rotavirus.
“It spreads easily between people if they haven’t carefully washed their hands after using the toilet or before handling food,” Ms Glasgow said, adding that the best defence against the illness 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, changing nappies or assisting someone who has diarrhoea or vomiting.”
Symptoms of gastroenteritis 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, sometimes longer, Ms Glasgow said.
Treatment for viral gastroenteritis is rest and drinking plenty of fluids, and most people recover without complications. However, viral gastroenteritis can be serious for infants, people with suppressed immune systems and the elderly.
Ms Glasgow said that infants or children in ECEC or school settings who develop vomiting or diarrhoea should stay away from the service for at least 48 hours after their symptoms have stopped.
For educators and other people whose work involves handling food, or looking after children, the elderly or patients, should not return to work until 48 hours after symptoms have stopped to avoid spread of infection to others.
For those people affected by the illness who are not in school or childcare, do not prepare food for others or do not look after children or the elderly should stay home for at least 24 hours after symptoms cease.
Anyone recovering from gastroenteritis should avoid visiting hospitals and aged care facilities to avoid spreading the infection to those most vulnerable.