Clean hands and staying home the key to beating gastro

Hunter New England Health is reminding the community of some simple hygiene precautions to avoid a nasty case of gastroenteritis.

This is particularly important after discovery of new strains of norovirus in NSW, which have also been detected in the Hunter New England region.

Hunter New England Health Public Health Doctor, Dr Kathryn Taylor said despite heading towards the end of the peak season for norovirus gastro, we are still seeing cases.

"Outbreaks can occur throughout the year but cases tend to rise during winter and early spring.  We have seen a number of outbreaks of norovirus gastroenteritis this season, particularly affecting aged care institutions and child care settings," Dr Taylor said.

Dr Taylor said there are two things people can do to reduce the spread of gastro: take care with hand washing and stay home while they recover.

"The best way to avoid viral gastroenteritis is by washing your hands thoroughly with soap and running water before handling and eating food. It is also important to always wash your hands after using the toilet," Dr Taylor said.

"Alcohol-based hand gel is an effective alternative if soap and water are not readily available."

The elderly are particularly vulnerable to dehydration from a bout of gastro so it is unwise to visit people in hospitals or in aged care facilities if you have diarrhoea.

"Outbreaks in these environments can more readily occur with devastating consequences," Dr Taylor said.

"This is why sometimes a local aged care facility or hospital will ask family members to delay visiting if an outbreak occurs so that the spread of the virus can be contained."

Child-care centres and schools are also susceptible to outbreaks and babies are another vulnerable group.

"It's important to remember that babies can become dehydrated very quickly with gastro.

Any baby less than six months old who has gastro should be taken to your GP or local emergency department immediately," Dr Taylor said.

"Some of these viruses, particularly norovirus, are highly infectious and can be spread very easily from person to person. They can also be spread through indirect contact with contaminated surfaces," Dr Taylor said.

"We advise staying home from work and keeping children home from school or childcare when sick. 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. Protect the vulnerable by not visiting people in aged care facilities or hospitals if you or your children are affected by gastro."

Symptoms of viral gastro usually last between one and three days, but sometimes longer.

Sometimes vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and loss of appetite can make a person lose more fluid than they can keep down. This may lead to dehydration, which needs to be treated immediately.

Signs of dehydration include passing less urine than usual, increased thirst and dry mouth, sunken eyes, tiredness, and irritability.  If dehydration cannot be rapidly corrected by increasing fluid intake, then medical care should be sought.

Contact Phone:  4985 5522