Viral Gastroenteritis on the rise

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Rotavirus is a common cause of viral gastroenteritis and can be particularly serious in young children.

The latest test data shows that rotavirus notifications are at one of the highest levels in the last decade.

In the first two weeks of 2023, 197 cases of rotavirus were identified, compared to about 40 cases usually in the same period.

Director of NSW Health’s One Health arm, Keira Glasgow, said it is important to reduce the spread of gastrointestinal disease before schools return in the coming weeks.

“Last week there were more than 2,250 presentations to New South Wales emergency departments with symptoms of gastroenteritis.

“Presentation was particularly high in children under five and in children aged five to 16,” said Ms Glasgow.

“The message to the community is clear: simple measures can help stop the spread of gastrointestinal disease. By maintaining good hand hygiene and keeping children at home if they are not feeling well, we have a good chance of curbing the spread before February, when all the kids are back in school together,’ she said.

Viruses are spread through the vomit or faeces (faeces) of an infected person. This can happen when clearing bodily fluids, during personal contact, sharing contaminated objects, and occasionally inhaling airborne particles when people vomit.

Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, headache, and muscle aches. They can take up to three days to develop and usually last one or two days, sometimes longer.

Advice for parents and carers includes:

• Keep children with gastroenteritis home from childcare, holiday care and school. Children should not return until 48 hours have passed since their last symptom.

• Wear gloves and a mask when cleaning up bodily fluids, including vomit.

• Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and running water, especially after changing diapers, helping someone with diarrhea and/or vomiting, and before preparing food. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is generally less effective than soap and water, but can be used if these are not available.

• Immediately and thoroughly clean contaminated surfaces with warm soapy water and then disinfect the area with a household disinfectant. If possible, disinfect with a freshly prepared solution of sodium hypochlorite (bleach) prepared according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

• Immediately remove and wash any clothing or linen that may be contaminated with faeces or vomit (use warm water and detergent).

• Vaccination to prevent rotavirus infection is recommended and is part of the childhood vaccination schedule. Vaccination is free for children under six months of age. The vaccine is given in two oral doses, at six weeks and four months of age, with completion of the course at 24 weeks of age.

The main treatment for viral gastroenteritis is rest and plenty of fluids. Most people recover without complications, but it may be necessary to seek more urgent care for infants, those with suppressed immune systems, and the elderly, who may experience more serious illness.

Information on how to prevent the spread of gastroenteritis can be found here: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/news/Pages/20230118_00.aspx.

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