NSW Health has issued a public health alert, warning residents to stay alert for signs of gastroenteritis as the state is seeing a huge increase in cases.
One common cause of viral gastroenteritis is rotavirus, which can be severe in young children.
There were 197 cases of rotavirus in the first two weeks of 2023, when there is usually about 40 cases during the same period.
NSW Health’s One Health branch director Keira Glasgow also said emergency departments saw more than 2250 presentations with symptoms of gastroenteritis last week (9-15 January).
The presentations were particularly high in children aged under five and five to 16.
Ms Glasgow said reducing the spread of gastro before schools returned in the next few weeks was important.
“The message to the community is clear – simple measures can help stop the spread of gastro,” she said.
“Maintaining good hand hygiene and keeping children at home when they are unwell will give us a good chance to slow the spread before February, when children will all be back together at school.”
Viruses are spread from the vomit or faeces of an infected person which can occur when cleaning up body fluids, via person-to-person contact, sharing contaminated objects and occasionally inhaling airborne particles when people vomit.
Viral gastroenteritis symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain, headache and muscle aches.
The symptoms can take three days to develop and usually last one or two days, but sometimes longer.
The main treatment is to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Most recover without complications, but urgent care may be needed for infants, people with suppressed immune systems and the elderly.
NSW Health’s advice for parents and caregivers includes:
- Keep children with gastro home from childcare services, vacation care and school. They should not return until 48 hours after their last symptom.
- Wear gloves and a mask when cleaning up bodily fluids.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and running water.
- Immediately and thoroughly clean contaminated surfaces with hot, soapy water and then disinfect the area using a household disinfectant.
- Immediately remove and wash clothing or linen that may be contaminated with stool or vomit (use hot water and detergent).
The health department also says immunisation to prevent rotavirus infection is recommended.
For more information on how to prevent the spread of gastro, click here.