Health warning on gastroenteritis in primary school aged children

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A hand holding a thermometer in a boy's mouth. The boy is in bed.
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NSW Health is warning of a gastroenteritis epidemic currently circulating around the state.

More than 3500 people have attended NSW Emergency Departments in the past fortnight for vomiting and diarrhoea including a number of cases involving primary school aged children.

The disease has also affected people in institutions such as nursing homes, hospitals and child care centres with 87 gastro outbreaks confirmed in the last month compared to 48 outbreaks in August 2011.

NSW Health Director of Health Protection, Dr Jeremy McAnulty, said that viral gastroenteritis is highly infectious and is often spread via direct contact with an infected person.

“These outbreaks are mostly caused by infection with a virus – most often norovirus or rotavirus – and spread easily from person to person,” Dr McAnulty said.

“Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain, headache, and muscle aches. These symptoms can take between one and three days to develop and usually last between one and two days, sometimes longer.

“The best way to reduce your chances of getting viral gastroenteritis 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.

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“It is vital that if you or your family contract gastroenteritis that you stay home from work or keep a child home from school if they are sick.

“People who are sick with gastroenteritis should not visit hospitals or aged care facilities to avoid spreading the virus in vulnerable settings.

“If your work involves handling food, or looking after children, the elderly or patients, do not return to work until 48 hours after symptoms have stopped.

“We urge infected people not to prepare food for others until at least 48 hours after they have completely recovered, and then double check that their hygiene is perfect.

“Dehydration often follows bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea so people with the virus should rest well and increase the amounts of fluids they drink. If people are concerned they should see their local GP.”

Source: NSW Department of Health

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Date Created: August 28, 2012 Date Modified: September 7, 2012