19 June 2013

See video Enterovirus Update - Dr Vicky Sheppeard NSW Health

NSW Health is urging parents to be aware but not alarmed about enterovirus infection.

The latest data provided to NSW Health today shows that the incidence of enterovirus cases has dropped since March 2013.

Enterovirus infections are not notifiable in NSW. However the NSW Ministry of Health has established a surveillance system to monitor severe enterovirus infections admitted to Sydney’s two children hospitals, together with monitoring NSW Emergency Department surveillance figures and testing results from the two enterovirus reference laboratories.

This surveillance is summarised in the weekly reports posted on the NSW Health website at http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/alerts/Documents/EV_Alert_webarchive_2013.pdf

Earlier this year, clinicians on the Northern Beaches reported to NSW Health an increase in the number of young children presenting with enterovirus infection. Laboratory investigations revealed that some of the children had a type of enterovirus called enterovirus 71 which is fairly rare in NSW but which has been associated with outbreaks in other parts of the world. There is currently no vaccine for enteroviruses, including enterovirus 71, available in Australia.

General enteroviruses are relatively common in the community, particularly in the warmer months, and can cause a range of illnesses, including fevers, rashes, and the common childhood infection hand, foot and mouth disease, and very rarely lead to neurological complications, including inflammation of brain or spinal cord, leading to irritability, jerky movements, unsteadiness and weakness.

These symptoms can also be caused by other types of serious infections, including meningococcal bacteria, so any child or adult with these symptoms should see a doctor immediately so the cause can be investigated and managed quickly.

Between January 1 and June 9 2013, 124 children were admitted to Sydney or Westmead Children’s Hospitals with suspected severe enterovirus infection. 103 of these have been confirmed as being due to enterovirus.

NSW Health is aware of four deaths in small children linked to enterovirus infection: to date two have been confirmed as being due to enterovirus and two remain under investigation by the coroner.

The best way to reduce your chances of infection is to practice good hand hygiene, especially washing hands with soap and water after going to the toilet, before eating, after wiping noses, and after changing nappies or soiled clothing.

Children should also be taught to cover their coughs and sneezes with a tissue. If no tissues are available then coughing or sneezing into your elbow is better than into your hands.

Child care centres routinely receive detailed information and protocols about infection control and how to prevent and respond to infectious diseases.

In March 2013, NSW Health wrote to childcare centres in NSW advising of an increase in enterovirus and hand, foot and mouth disease cases and reminding them to practice routine hygiene.

Children with hand, foot and mouth disease should not return to school or childcare until their blisters have dried.

Further information on Enterovirus can be found at http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/alerts/Documents/EV_Alert_webarchive_2013.pdf