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NSW Hospitals see surge in gastro cases, young children most at risk

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NSW residents are urged to watch for signs of gastroenteritis as cases rise sharply across the state.

People in NSW are encouraged to stay on alert for symptoms of gastroenteritis, with testing and hospital data showing a significant rise in cases in recent weeks across the state.

Rotavirus is one common cause of viral gastroenteritis and can be particularly severe in young children.

The latest testing data shows rotavirus notifications are at some of their highest levels of the last decade. In the first two weeks of 2023, 197 cases of rotavirus were identified, compared with about 40 cases during the same period usually.

Director of NSW Health’s One Health branch Keira Glasgow said reducing the spread of gastro before schools returned in the next few weeks is important.

“Last week, there were more than 2,250 presentations to NSW emergency departments with symptoms of gastroenteritis. Presentations were particularly high in children under five years old, and in children aged five to 16 years old,” Glasgow said.

“The message to the community is clear – simple measures can help stop the spread of gastro. 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 stool (faeces) of an infected person. This can occur when cleaning up body fluids, during 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. They can take up to three days to develop and usually last between one or two days, and sometimes longer.

Preventing the spread: Tips for parents and caregivers

  • Keep children experiencing gastroenteritis home from childcare services, vacation 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 thoroughly and regularly with soap and running water, particularly after changing nappies, assisting someone with diarrhoea and/or vomiting and before preparing food. Alcohol hand sanitiser is generally less effective than soap and water but can be used if these are not available.
  • Immediately and thoroughly clean contaminated surfaces with hot, soapy water and then disinfect the area using a household disinfectant. If possible, disinfect with a freshly made sodium hypochlorite (bleach) solution, prepared according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Immediately remove and wash clothing or linen that may be contaminated with stool or vomit (use hot water and detergent).

Immunisation to prevent rotavirus infection is recommended and part of the childhood immunisation schedule. Immunisation 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 by 24 weeks of age.

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

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