2000 struck down by major gastro outbreak in NSW

ALMOST 2000 people in the last week have presented at emergency departments as an outbreak of viral gastroenteritis hits Sydney. The rise has led to a 34 per cent increase in gastro cases over last year.

And the symptoms aren't pretty with more than 400 of them being admitted to hospital.

Norovirus and rotavirus in the community, childcare centres and aged care facilities has coincided with the rise.

The worst affected areas include Northern Sydney, Illawarra Shoalhaven, Sydney, South Eastern Sydney and Nepean Blue Mountains local health districts.

In the past week, 32 gastroenteritis outbreaks in childcare centres and aged care facilities were reported. This affected just shy of 300 people and all appear to be caused by gastroenteritis. Four were specifically caused by norovirus.

NSW Health communicable diseases director Vicky Sheppeard said viral gastroenteritis is highly infectious and often spread via direct contact with an infected person.

"Norovirus and rotavirus spread easily from person to person, particularly if hands are not carefully washing after using the toilet or before handling food," Dr Sheppeard said.

NSW Health is urging people to wash their hands and stay home if affected.

"It is vital that if you or your family contract gastroenteritis that you stay home from work and keep sick children home from school or childcare for at least 24 hours after the last symptom of gastroenteritis," she said.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain, headache and muscle pains.

"These symptoms can take between one and three days to develop and usually last between one and two days, sometimes longer.

"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.

"People who are sick ... should not visit hospitals or aged care facilities to avoid spreading the virus to vulnerable people."

All children should receive the rotavirus vaccine at six weeks and again at four months of age.

The vaccine is about 70 per cent effective in prevention of the virus and over 85 per cent effective in preventing severe gastroenteritis in infants, giving protection for up to five years.

News Corp Australia

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