NSW Health is alerting parents and carers with young children about the need to carefully wash their hands and keep sick children at home amid 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 5 seeking treatment for the highly-contagious infection.
The number of outbreaks at childcare centres reported to NSW Health is above average for this time of year, with 109 centres reporting that almost 1,000 children have been affected since February. More than 200 staff have also reportedly fallen ill during these outbreaks.
The number of children seeking treatment for gastroenteritis at Emergency Departments has also risen above usual levels, with 559 children seeking medical attention in the past week.
Ms Keira Glasgow, acting Manager of Enteric and Zoonotic Diseases at NSW Health, said gastroenteritis was often spread by direct contact with an infected person. Viral gastroenteritis is 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.
“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, 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.
The main treatment for viral gastroenteritis is rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Most people recover without complications. However, viral gastroenteritis can be serious for infants, people with suppressed immune systems and the elderly.
“Infants or children in childcare or school who develop vomiting or diarrhoea, should stay home for at least 48 hours after their symptoms have stopped,” Ms Glasgow said.
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.
People 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.